• Ahead of World Autism Awareness Week, MPs from different parties discussed autism for almost two hours in the House of Commons.
  • The Rt Hon Dame Cheryl Gillan MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA), called the debate.
  • This year’s debate was really important because 2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the Autism Act in England, and the next milestone year for reviewing the autism strategy.
  • Have your say on the Autism Act by completing our survey.
  • MPs highlighted issues faced by autistic people across a number of important areas including: public understanding of autism, education, employment, health services, and the inclusion of autism as ‘mental disorder’ in the Mental Health Act.

Huw Merriman

APPGA Officer Huw Merriman MP delivered Dame Cheryl Gillan MP’s speech in her absence.

On 21 March, MPs came together ahead of World Autism Awareness Week (1 to 7 April) to debate the issues that matter to autistic people and the support they need to live fulfilling lives, as well as the need to improve public understanding of autism.

This annual debate always draws a significant number of MPs. This year was no different, with 28 MPs taking part.

This year’s debate was particularly important as 2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the Autism Act, which was a landmark in the battle to improve the lives of autistic adults and their families in England. We’ll be marking this anniversary throughout 2019 and campaigning with you alongside the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA) to ensure the Government’s review of the autism strategy improves support for children and adults.

Find out more about out work to mark the 10th anniversary of the Autism Act.

Sherriff and Dinenage

Caption – Left, Paula Sheriff MP responds for the Labour Party. Right, Caroline Dinenage MP speaks on behalf of the Government.

With Brexit taking up a lot of MPs’ time, we were pleased that the Rt Hon Dame Cheryl Gillan MP was able to secure this debate and grateful to Huw Merriman MP, an officer in the APPGA, for delivering her opening speech on her behalf, as she was unable to attend due to personal circumstances.

Cheryl Gillan’s speech drew attention to the continued need to improve public understanding, highlighting research by our charity that shows that 50% of autistic people and their families sometimes don’t go out because they’re worried how people will react to their autism. In her speech, she also said that too many local areas in England are not meeting all their obligations under the Autism Act and that, as we reach its 10th anniversary, now is a good time to ask what more needs to be done.

During the debate, MPs raised many of the important issues our charity campaigns on. APPGA Officer Thangam Debbonaire MP highlighted the autism employment gap, saying that not only unemployment but also underemployment needs to be tackled. She called on the Government, businesses, and unions to work together to address this.

A number of MPs also highlighted how too many autistic children and young people in England are being let down and held back from achieving their potential by the education system. Stephen Twigg MP said in his speech: “For too many families, securing the right support for their child at school is a hugely difficult task, and can become an all-consuming battle.” (This was one of the themes of our 2017 report on autism and education, published in partnership with the APPGA.)

Diagnosis was another issue that a number of MPs raised, with Helen Hayes MP calling for more resources to be put into diagnosis and post-diagnosis support. Stephen Twigg MP highlighted the autism diagnosis postcode lottery, which was uncovered by research undertaken by Norman Lamb MP in consultation with our charity. 

Scott Mann MP discussed the importance of making communities more autism-friendly, while Anne Marie Trevelyan highlighted the Ministry of Defence’s current policy of not allowing autistic people to serve in the Armed Forces.

David Linden

David Linden MP spoke for the SNP

The SNP’s David Linden MP highlighted that the Scottish Government has recently announced they are reviewing mental health and mental capacity laws in Scotland. We welcomed this announcement and will work with the Scottish Government to make sure this meets the needs of autistic people.

Speaking for the Labour Party, Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Paula Sherriff MP raised the scandal of autistic people getting stuck in mental health hospitals, often for long periods of time,  something many autistic people and families are campaigning on, and that we’ve raised in our Beyond Transforming Care report. She said that the Transforming Care programme, which aims to reduce the numbers of people this happens to, has "fallen far short" and argued that better investment in community mental health services must be part of the answer.

We were also pleased to see the Shadow Minister’s recognition that autism is not a mental health condition. We agree, and have been calling on the Government to review the definition of autism as a "mental disorder" in the Mental Health Act, leaving autistic people more at risk of being ‘sectioned’.

Giving the Government’s response, the Minister for Health and Social Care Caroline Dinenage MP recognised that 10 years on from the Autism Act, “there is still so much more that we can do to ensure that public services meet the needs of autistic people”.

She spoke about the Government’s commitment to extending the autism strategy to education, children and young people, which we agree is a really important step to improving support. In addition, she reiterated the Government's promise that its plans are for mandatory training in autism to apply to all health and social care staff, not just medical professionals. The Government is currently consulting on their proposals for this training. This follows a fantastic campaign by Paula McGowan.

Our charity will follow up with MPs who attended the debate and the Minister to ensure sure the Government is taking action on the key points raised. 

With the APPGA, we are also leading an inquiry into the Autism Act’s implementation and we need to hear what you think – wherever in the UK you live. Have your say on the Autism Act by completing our survey.