landscape shot of the Houses of Parliament

 

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, delivered the Spring Budget today, setting out the Government’s spending priorities for the next year. We’ve outlined announcements from the Budget that affect autistic people, including a commitment of funding to help discharge autistic people from mental health hospitals.

Key announcements

  • A Learning Disability and Autism Fund. This will provide extra money for the next three years to help tackle serious and long-standing funding issues that stop autistic people being able to leave mental health hospitals.
  • An extra £6bn for the NHS over this Parliament, which the Government says will be focused on workforce and building hospitals, among other things.
  • £780 million extra in 2020-21 to support children and young people with special educational needs. 

Our response to the Learning Disability and Autism Fund announcement

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “This new fund is desperately needed. But, until the Government fixes social care funding, autistic people will still end up in crisis.

“The Learning Disability and Autism Fund, which is extra money for the next three years, will help tackle serious and long-standing funding issues that stop autistic people being able to leave mental health hospitals. We’ll be looking out for the detail on how this will be given to councils and how the Government will guarantee that it is spent well.

“But, it won’t end the scandal of hundreds of autistic people being stuck in mental health units on its own. Every day, thousands of autistic people aren’t getting the crucial support they need because the social care system is starved of the funding it needs and mental health treatments aren’t adapted for autism. Too many people end up extremely isolated and find themselves in crisis – where the only options are A&E, being sectioned or even ending up in prison.”

What we called for

This Budget is particularly important because we’re expecting the new autism strategy – the Government’s plan to improve services and support for autistic people - to be published this spring.

Through our Not Enough campaign, we’ve been clear with Government that the revised strategy must be properly funded. We wrote to the Chancellor to urge him to make this happen. In particular, we asked him to:

  1. Create and fund a national autism understanding campaign, aiming to shift the attitudes and behaviour of millions of people
  2. Establish and fund specialist autism teams (SATs), designed to provide information and support after diagnosis, in every local authority area in England
  3. Reduce the number of autistic people in mental health hospitals.

Our charity is also a member of the Care and Support Alliance – an Alliance of over 75 organisations campaigning together on adult social care. Collectively, we called on the Government to invest funding to keep the social care system afloat. 

What was announced – Learning Disability and Autism Fund

Today, the Government announced a Learning Disability and Autism Fund, which is aimed at helping to “speed up the discharge of individuals with learning disabilities or autism into the community from mental health inpatient care in England” over the next three years. This funding is desperately needed.

In spite of successive governments promising to reduce the number of people in inpatient mental health hospitals, there are more autistic people stuck in these services than there were five years ago – even though autism isn’t a mental health condition.

Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction. But it is only one part of the picture. We also need to stop autistic people from ending up in mental health hospitals in the first place. This can only be done by increasing funding for our social care system, which have been starved of investment and is on the brink.

We know from the The Autism Act, 10 Years On report that more than 2 in 3 autistic adults don’t get the everyday support they need, and underinvestment in social care is one of the key reasons for this. We’re really disappointed the Government hasn’t addressed this in the Budget today. 

Other announcements

In addition to the fund, the Chancellor also announced:

  • An extra £6bn for the NHS over this Parliament, which the Government says will be focused on workforce and building hospitals, among other things.
  • £780 million extra in 2020-21 to support children and young people with special educational needs.
  • Changing the rules on Statutory Sick Pay during the Covid-19 outbreak so it’s available from the first day of sickness and for people who are advised to self-isolate.

What wasn’t included, and our next steps

While the new fund is a step in the right direction, we’re really disappointed that some crucial issues uncovered in our Not Enough campaign weren’t included:

  • A properly-funded national autism public understanding campaign, to shift the attitudes and behaviour of millions of people. Last year, the Government promised this understanding campaign, but a year on, we’re still waiting.
  • The introduction of specialist autism teams (SATs) in every local authority area in England. Specialist autism teams help to diagnose more people, as well as providing vital support after diagnosis. A small number of these teams currently exist in some areas of England, and the model is recommended in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence clinical guideline on autism. We know from research that they have a positive impact on people’s mental health and ability to manage their daily lives, and want to see these established as part of the revised autism strategy.

We’ll continue to push the support and services autistic people and their families need and funding for the revised autism strategy, so it can live up to its promise. We will also hold the Government to account on their promise of an autism public understanding campaign.