Welfare and Work Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by the National Autistic Society (WRW 27)

The National Autistic Society (NAS) is the UK’s leading charity for people affected by autism. We have around 20,000 members and over 100 branches, who are at the heart of what we do. We provide a wide range of advice, information, support and specialist services to 100,000 people each year. A local charity with a national presence, we campaign for lasting positive change for people affected by autism, and empower local people to influence change they will experience at a local level.

About autism

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours. Prevalence studies show that more than 1 in 100 people has autism. [1]

Summary

1. In order for the Government to achieve its stated aim of ‘full employment’ it is essential that the Government address the disability employment gap. The NAS warmly welcomed the current Government’s manifesto commitment to halve the disability employment gap and believe The Welfare Reform and Work Bill (the "Bill") represents its first opportunity to work towards its commitment by making sure the Secretary of State is required to report on progress towards the goal of full employment for those with a disability.

2. The National Autistic Society’s (NAS) research indicates that the autism employment gap is even bigger than the disability employment gap. Just 15% of adults with autism are in full time paid employment, [2] yet 79% of people with autism on out-of-work benefits want to work. [3] The Bill represents the opportunity to address this issue and make sure that people on the autism spectrum are able to live independently, with support when they need it.

3. Further support for people with autism can come through Government schemes like Access to Work, but the specific needs of adults on the spectrum need to be recognised by the scheme.

4. In order to reach the Government’s ambition of halving the disability employment gap, the NAS believes that key amendments are necessary to ensure that disabled people and particularly people on the autism spectrum play a part in achieving full employment. Furthermore, to get into work, people on the autism spectrum need access to high quality employment support services.

5. We welcome the Government’s commitment in the July Budget to protect Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and its replacement Personal Independence Payment (PIP) from means-testing and taxation. DLA was designed to mitigate against the extra costs disabled people face as a result of their impairment. DLA and PIP play a vital role in supporting people on the autism spectrum to live independently, be included in society and to work.

6. However we are extremely concerned that the Bill legislates to cut a number of working age benefits which people on the autism spectrum are disproportionately likely to receive, such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Housing Benefit (HB), Tax Credits and the new Universal Credit (UC).

7. Autism often makes life more expensive. Many people on the spectrum are among the country’s most vulnerable citizens and rely on disability and other benefits as their main source of income, to pay their bills, and for basics such as food and clothing. A reduction in benefits will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on their ability to live independently, be fully included in society as well as look for work.

8. One parent told us that any cuts to her daughter's benefits could mean she'd have to give up her independence entirely, leading to a "return of the depression and suicidal ideation". As well as the devastating impact for her and her family, it would ultimately result in additional cost to the taxpayer due to more costly crisis intervention in future.

9. We are particularly opposed to the cut of £30 a week for new claimants in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).

10. The Government has stated that it believes the £30 is disincentivising disabled people in ESA WRAG from working. This is misleading as these people have been found by an independent assessor as currently not fit for work.

11. Furthermore no evidence has been presented to back up their assertion. We believe it is unacceptable for the Government to cut benefits for sick and disabled people by £30 with no evidence that doing so will increase work incentives.

12. This submission provides more information on each of these areas.

Employment (Clause 1)

13. Only 15% of autistic adults are in paid full-time employment, but 79% of autistic adults on out-of-work disability benefits want to work. This represents a huge pool of untapped talent. The Government’s Think Autism adult autism strategy also outlines the importance of increasing employment among autistic adults.

14. The Bill requires the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament every year that outlines progress made towards "full employment". We welcome the intention to monitor progress in this important regard. However, we are concerned that this will not accurately monitor the number of disabled people that are included in the workforce, or the Government’s progress towards halving the disability employment gap.

15. Furthermore, to ensure that all disabled people are benefiting from the Government’s full employment strategies, data used to compile the Secretary of State’s report should capture information on an individuals’ disability, including autism. Employment support will differ depending on an individual’s needs. For example, an autistic adult may require support around sensory issues, or understanding instructions that another disabled person will not. The current Labour Force Survey does not give this level of detail.

16. Without this information, it will not be possible to understand whether the Government’s full employment strategy is benefiting disabled people, including those on the autism spectrum, and thereby closing the disability employment gap. We, alongside other disability charities, including Scope and Mencap, support the below amendment:

Suggested amendment

Clause 1, page 1, line 6 insert:-

(1A)

(1) The Secretary of State must, in the report laid before parliament under Section (1) above, set out the progress which has been made towards halving the gap between the rates of employment of disabled and non-disabled people.

(2) (a) This report must set out how the Secretary of State has interpreted "halving the disability employment gap" and progress against this objective.

(b) In this report the Secretary of State must consider if progress has been sufficient and set out the factors which have been used in determining whether progress has been sufficient. These factors must include both the extent to which the gap has been reduced and the speed at which the gap is being reduced.

(c) The Secretary of State must, if progress under s1A(2)(b) is insufficient, set out in this report what remedial steps will be taken.

(3) (a) The Secretary of State must in this report include further information as to

(i) the overall rates of employment and

(ii) the progress of these rates of employment

In the groups of disabled people set out in section (1A)(3)(b) below.

(b) These groups of disabled people are working age people with:

(i) a learning disability

(ii) autism

(iii) mental health problems

(iv) any other impairment or long term health condition which is marginalised within the labour force and requires specific focus

17. In his Budget speech, the Chancellor announced that the Government will provide new funding for additional support to help claimants with a disability return to work. We believe that this funding needs to be invested in specialist programmes if it is to work for autistic adults.

18. We regularly hear from adults on the spectrum that the current programmes are not working for them. We also know that job outcomes for disabled people on the Work Programme are low at only 8.7 percent for new Employment Support Allowance (ESA) customers, and 4.3 percent for other ESA/Incapacity Benefit customers. [4]

19. Meanwhile, research into the impact of a specialist autism support scheme found that almost 70% of adults found work, when supported by this scheme, [5] demonstrating the significant impact that this type of help can have.

Suggested amendment

After Clause 1, Page 1, line 8, at end insert new clause:-

Personalised and Specialist Employment Support

(1) The Secretary of State must make provision for additional personalised and specialist employment support

(2) The forms of personalised and specialist employment support may be specified in guidance

(3) (a) The Secretary of State may make provision under subsection (1) to cities and local areas seeking to improve local disability employment rates

(b) Provision for this may be set out in guidance.

(4) The Secretary of State must issue guidance to support the shaping of a market amongst suppliers and with the purpose of encouraging diversity amongst suppliers in terms of expertise, size, locality and encouraging both profit and not-for-profit organisations.

Employment and support allowance: work related activity component

(Clause 13)

20. When people are assessed as currently not fit for work they are placed in either the ESA Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) for disabled people with limited capability to work or the ESA Support Group for disabled people with limited capability for work related activity.

21. People in ESA WRAG may be able undertake work related activity which might involve education and training. Over time and crucially with the right support, they are expected to move towards and into work.

22. The Bill legislates to reduce the amount of support new claimants receive within the ESA WRAG from £102.15 a week to £73.10, from April 2017 – a reduction of £29.05 per week. This is despite the fact that the WRAG is specifically there to provide support for those disabled people who are assessed as currently being not fit for work.

23. This measure will have a significant impact on many people on the autism spectrum. We know that while the majority of autistic adults want to work, only 15% are in full time paid employment. This is due to the significant barriers they face, and the additional support they require to find and stay in employment, which is currently extremely limited.

24. For many autistic adults, the support they need is long-term and they are therefore likely to experience a longer period of unemployment than those without autism. A reduction in the rate paid to them will therefore have a significant financial impact on them, potentially causing debt and stress.

25. No evidence has been presented to back up the assertion that the ESA WRAG payment is a financial incentive that discourages claimants from seeking work. This does not reflect our experience supporting people on the autism spectrum, and this rhetoric is incredibly offensive.

26. We therefore strongly oppose the reduction in ESA WRAG payments by £30 a week and wish to see the clause left out.

Suggested amendment

Page 14, line 1

leave out Clause 13

The benefit cap and carers (Clause 7)

27. The Bill lowers the benefit cap so that the total amount of out of work benefits a household can claim is £23,000 in London and £20,000 outside of London.

28. Whilst we welcome the exemption of those in receipt of disability benefits from the benefit cap, we are particularly concerned about the impact of the cap on carers of adult disabled sons or daughters who live with them, and are seen as non-dependents in the benefits system.

29. More than two thirds of autistic adults rely on their families for financial support and many parents tell us that they have to give up work to help support their autistic son or daughter. Imposing the cap on such households will be potentially devastating, leaving some unable to meet the cost of their housing payments.

Suggested amendment

Clause 7, Page 9, line 6, at end insert new sub-clause:–

() Households containing members who are in receipt of Carers Allowance or who attract the carer element of Universal Credit are exempt from the benefit cap

September 2015


[1] The NHS Information Centre, Community and Mental Health Team, Brugha, T. et al. (2012) Estimating the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions in adults: extending the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Leeds: NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care.

[2] Rosenblatt, M. (2008). I Exist: The message from adults with autism in England. London: The National Autistic Society.

[3] Redman, S. et al (2009). Don’t Write Me Off. London: The National Autistic Society.

[4] ‘Other’ represents ex Incapacity Benefit claimants and those who have voluntarily attended ESA WRAG. Work Programme statistical summary: data to March 2015 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/436513/work-programe-statistics-to-mar-2015-v2.pdf

[5] Howlin, P., Alcock, J. & Burkin, C (2005) An 8 year follow-up of specialist supported employment services for high-ability adults with autism or Asperger syndrome. Autism 9(5) 533-549

Prepared 16th September 2015