A review attempting to identify and tackle the barriers autistic people face at work is being launched by the government, in an attempt to push companies to “reap the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce”.
Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary who is father to an autistic adult, has been asked by the Department for Work and Pensions to lead the review designed to suggest how ministers could support employers attempting to recruit and retain autistic people. Autistic people currently have a very low rate of employment, with fewer than three in 10 in work. That compares with around half of all disabled people and 80% of non-disabled people.
Businesses, employment organisations, specialist support groups and autistic people will all be asked for testimony on the barriers they face. It will also look at what more could be done to prepare autistic people for beginning or returning to a career and initiatives to reduce any stigma autistic employees face.
It is hoped that any recommendations could also benefit people with other neuro-developmental conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia. In an article for today’s Observer, Buckland and the minister for disabled people, Tom Pursglove, write that “employers need to stop seeing autism as a drawback and start recognising it as an asset”.
The review has been welcomed by autism charities. James Cusack, chief executive of the Autistica charity, said he wanted to see a doubling of the employment rate for autistic people by 2030. “We are delighted to support the government on this vital review which will enable us to move from awareness to evidence-based action,” Cusack said.
“This will help us to rethink how we approach autistic people’s access to work and perhaps drive a wider rethink around how we accommodate everyone in work, as we all think differently with unique strengths, challenges and needs.”
Tim Nicholls, from the National Autistic Society, welcomed the review. However, he said it must come alongside proper funding for a plan to improve the life chances of those with the condition. “Still many autistic people face huge barriers in finding and staying in work,” he said. “Better understanding of autism in the workplace could transform thousands of autistic people’s lives.
“This commission alone won’t ensure autistic people are able to fully realise their potential in the workplace but it’s a really valuable step towards closing the employment gap. The government must also fully fund its national autism strategy so that autistic people can get the vital support they need.”
The National Autistic Society has previously estimated that at least 1% of the UK population are autistic, but also that the figure could be higher as many people have never been tested. Around one in 57 children in the UK is on the autistic spectrum, according to a study of more than 7 million children that suggested it was much more prevalent than previously thought.