Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the National Autistic Society after the publication of the Welfare
Reform Green Paper
The National Autistic Society (NAS) is the leading
charity for people with autism (including Asperger syndrome) in
the UK. It has a membership of 14,000, a network of 60 branches,
and 90 partner organisations in the autism field. The NAS is in
a unique position to comment on issues affecting people with autistic
spectrum disorders because it operates in all four nations of
the UK. The NAS exists to champion the rights and interests of
all people with autism and to ensure that they and their families
receive quality services, appropriate to their needs. The NAS's
employment agencyProspectsis the only specialist
agency supporting people who have autism into mainstream jobs.
There are approximately 535,000 people with autistic spectrum
disorders in the UK.
The NAS submitted written evidence to the inquiry
on 3 October 2005. We would like to take the opportunity available
to make additional comments on the reform of incapacity benefits,
following the publication of DWP's Green Paper: "A new deal
for welfare: Empowering people to work". In addition to the
issues discussed in our original submission, or by way of expanding
or clarifying those points, is the following:
Autism (including Asperger Syndrome) is a lifelong
developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates
and relates to people around them. People with autism experience
three main areas of difficultyknown as the triad of impairments.
These are: social interaction (difficulty with social relationships,
for example, appearing aloof and indifferent to other people);
social communication (difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication,
for example, not fully understanding the meaning of common gestures,
facial expressions or tone of voice); imagination (people may
also have difficulty with sequencing, organising and planning
Autism is a spectrum condition so, although
everyone with autism will have a combination of these difficulties,
the characteristics will vary greatly and some may be demonstrated
more strongly than others. The implications of this should be
considered in the development of policy.
The role of professionals in the system is crucial
in determining the nature of the experience for an individual.
Whether the professional is a Personal Adviser, medical practitioner
(including psychologists) or Disability Employment Adviser, it
is essential that if someone is assessing or supporting an individual
with autism that they have knowledge and experience of the condition.
In our experience that knowledge is often lacking, for example,
42% of GPs said they did not have sufficient information to make
an informed assessment about the likelihood of a patient having
autism. As a consequence we feel that people with autism do not
receive the support that they are entitled to. We would like a
commitment from Government that any Disability Employment Adviser,
Personal Adviser or medical practitioner who is assessing or supporting
an individual with autism has considerable knowledge and understanding
of the condition.
The necessity of training becomes particularly
evident with the proposal that sanctions and conditionality will
become part of the system for new claimants. Without sufficient
training there is a danger that people will face cuts to their
benefit levels as a result of behaviour that is a result of their
condition being misconstrued as an unwillingness to engage. For
example, people with Asperger syndrome may speak fluently but
they may not take much notice of the reaction of the people listening
to them or because all individuals with autism have difficulty
with flexibility of thought, they will have difficulty understanding
someone else's perspective.
The structure of the Work Focused Interview
(WFI) may need to be adapted to ensure that all individuals understand
what is required of them. The WFI process will need to be explained
with clarity to individuals with autism. The "hidden"
nature of Asperger syndrome can often mean that misunderstandings
can occur but are not obvious to those with no knowledge of the
The NAS believes that if sanctions are to form
part of the system then whoever decides whether benefit levels
should be reduced should have specialist knowledge of the disabilities
that people they are working with have.
The revision of the Personal Capability Assessment,
including the mental health component, will be, for people with
autism, one of the most critical elements of the proposed reforms.
Autism is a developmental disability, not a mental health illness
or a learning disability, therefore it is important that the particular
characteristics of the condition are accounted for during any
revision of the gateway, including the mental health descriptors.
It is often a failure to appreciate and account for the nature
of autism that leads to unfair treatment of people with autism.
It is essential that the NAS is involved in the proposed work
to review the gateway.
The experience of people with autism in the
pathways to work pilot areas has not been monitored. We would
like a commitment from the Government to monitor the affect that
Pathways has for people with autism.
We are concerned about the mention of outcome
based contracts for Pathways to Work, as any system based on outcomes
should account for the fact that people have different support
needs and will need differing amounts of time to find employment.
The NAS's employment agency, Prospects, has some clients who require
considerable support to build confidence and work skills, as well
as identifying suitable work goals. Prospects have a very successful
record of helping people find and retain work, for example, 67%
of the clients they supported between 1995-2003 found work (and
they cater for a very wide range of referrals that come through
Jobcentre Plus and the New Deal for Disabled People programme).
However, Prospects has encountered difficulties with the rigid
nature of outcomes based, time limited funding, when structures
do not make allowances for the fact that people with autism need
more support than is often available. As a result, Prospects has
to provide that additional support as a cost to itself.
People with autism need ongoing, specialist
support in the work place. Access to work funding is a route to
providing this support. The NAS is disappointed that the Green
Paper failed to allocate additional funds to what is widely recognised
as a successful programme.
The NAS would also welcome Access to work funding
being available for more than six months for individuals undertaking
permitted work. Some individuals with autism may not be able to
work more that 16 hours per week, but they still benefit greatly
from ongoing support to help them continue to work.