Cheryl Gillan 
Carers Week (8-14 June) is an important time for us all to reflect on the invaluable role unpaid carers, including families and friends, play in supporting autistic people across the UK. Our country’s carers are heroic - this year more than ever - and I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you.

As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Autism, I have heard countless stories about the responsibilities you are taking on during the coronavirus outbreak. So many of the usual services autistic people rely on have paused or changed because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Thousands of you have stepped in to fill this gap and are helping autistic children and adults cope with the unsettling lifestyle changes and uncertainty of the lockdown – and the huge anxiety this is triggering.

It is important that we – as members of the public and parliamentarians - recognise your vital contribution to the people you support, your local communities and society. We must also acknowledge the difficulties many of you are facing at this time, and make sure you get the support you need to continue caring. I, and members of the APPGA, will continue to fight for this in Parliament, as well as in our constituencies.

Carers must get the support they need

Under the law, if you’re a carer, you should be able to get a carer’s assessment. This sets out what support you might need to maintain your own physical and mental wellbeing. However, the reality is that far too many carers do not know or are not told about this. And many of you tell me that these assessments do not always lead to the appropriate support. On top of this, much of the support carers would normally be able to get is just not available at the moment – whether it’s short breaks, respite or peer support.

I am committed to supporting you so that the next iteration of the autism strategy, which is due soon, leads to the care you, and the autistic person you care for, need.

During Carers Week and beyond, we want to play our part in making caring more visible – it’s important that we help society understand what you’re doing and the different ways you might be helping autistic people across the UK.

Lots of families tell me they can’t visit the person they support at the moment, as they live in a care home or because they’re currently receiving inpatient care. Many of these services, quite rightly, are not letting people visit because of the infection risk. These are incredibly stressful circumstances, and just because people cannot be there in person does not take away from the huge role carers play in making sure autistic people get the right support – even if that has to be remotely. Every cloud has a silver lining and there have been some encouraging reports that some autistic people have benefitted from the remote technology and even felt more comfortable using it to get advice and assistance.

The financial impact of caring must also be recognised. Many of you have had to reduce the hours you work, or leave work altogether, to meet your caring responsibilities. Some carers end up facing financial difficulties – often because they’re not supported properly by their employer. We must ensure that employers have a greater awareness of the role caring plays, especially as over 6.5 million people in the UK are in this position. You must not be left behind.

What needs to change

Caring can be challenging, and it is clear that the pandemic has made it even harder. We owe you all a big debt, and must – as a society - recognise the vital role you play in supporting autistic people when there is often no other care or assistance available.

I want to use the opportunity of Carers Week to express my gratitude for what you are doing, and to call for you to get the support you need to continue caring for autistic people across the UK as we move through this pandemic. We must also make sure autistic people can access the services and support they need in the first place, which was one of the major issues raised by the APPG on Autism’s Autism Act – 10 years on inquiry last year. This is crucial in making sure carers across the UK are not left with all the responsibility. I and the members of the APPGA will continue to champion this in Parliament and try and bring about the changes that you need.

Find out more on the Carers Week website..