Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Autism employment gap is focus of new government review

A new government review aims to identify and break down the barriers that autistic people face when seeking sustained and fulfilling employment.

The Buckland Review of Autism Employment was commissioned by Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Mel Stride and led by Sir Robert Buckland KC. It includes the views of hundreds of employers and autistic people and makes 19 recommendations for workplace culture changes.

This includes encouraging career progression by developing packages of training focused on autistic staff, improving recruitment by ensuring careers advisers can provide appropriate advice to autistic jobseekers, and supporting autistic people who are already in the workplace by producing “autism design guides” to create appropriate premises, furnishings and equipment.

According to the report, autistic people face the largest pay gap of all disability groups, receiving a third less than non-disabled people on average. Autistic graduates are also twice as likely to be unemployed after 15 months as non-disabled graduates, with only 36% finding full time work in this period.

In addition, autistic graduates are most likely to be overqualified for the job they have, most likely to be on zero-hours contracts, and least likely to be in a permanent role.

Sir Robert Buckland KC MP said: “It has been a tremendous privilege to compile this report, and to hear from hundreds of autistic people about their experiences. This is all about them, and we couldn’t have done it without their help.

“The review can make a truly radical difference to the lives of autistic people and their families. I call on employers and government to lead this change and make these recommendations a reality.”

Autism employment gap is ‘shocking’

The review highlights some of the barriers to work that autistic people face such as negative experiences of interviews, group tasks and psychometric tests. Also how they must navigate vague, generic job descriptions, ambiguous interview questions and challenging sensory environments, often with an emphasis on social skills rather than job skills.

Even after finding work, maintaining long-term employment remains a challenge for autistic people. Many do not receive the necessary support or adjustments to enable them to fulfil their role in the face of inaccessible sensory and social environments.

In addition, many autistic adults are not aware of their legal rights around reasonable adjustments. Only around 35% of autistic employees are fully open about being autistic, with one in 10 not disclosing to anyone at work. For those who do disclose, the most common time to do so is after starting a job – highlighting a persistent and well-founded fear of discrimination during the recruitment process.

It is hoped that the recommendations in the review will improve the autism employment rate over the next five years. The questions it aims to answer are:

  1. What initiatives can help to raise awareness, reduce stigma and capitalise on the productivity of autistic employees?
  2. What more could be done to prepare autistic people effectively for beginning or returning to a career?
  3. How can employers adjust recruitment practices to meet the needs of autistic applicants?
  4. How can employers support autistic people already in their workforce?
  5. How can employers encourage and support autistic staff to develop and progress their career?

The report said that the transformational change needed cannot be done all at once and everywhere. Instead, it was seeking to generate a wave of improvement: starting from ripples of good practice, building into small waves of change, and finally growing into a sea change in accepted good practice which any employer would both want to and be expected to follow.

It added: “We recognise that this could take some years to follow through. Finally, we note that the evidence in some areas is slim or non-existent, and as the wave of improvement grows, we will wish to evaluate the effects and use that evaluation to adjust further developments. There will therefore be a need for continued evidence gathering and analysis.”

A dedicated taskforce will be set up to further the work of the review.

Responses to the report

Charity Autistica said it was proud to have supported the review. It added: “Despite most autistic people wanting to work, just three in ten are currently in employment due to stigma and lack of understanding of their needs.

“More neuroinclusivity in the workplace can help fill vacancies and grow the economy by unlocking the potential of thousands more people. A bold new government-backed review has set out a vision for workplace culture changes to support autistic people to start and stay in work.”

Mel Merritt, Head of Policy and Campaigns at the National Autistic Society, said: “The autism employment gap is shocking; with just 29% of autistic people in work, compared to around half of all disabled people and eight in ten non-disabled people.

“Autistic people tell us that a lack of understanding and negative stereotypes are the biggest barriers to them entering and staying in work, so we welcome the recommendation to create a national campaign to build awareness and the introduction of a multidisciplinary taskforce, aimed at changing employer behaviour.

“Autistic people have a huge amount to offer employers, and more businesses are now recognising the benefits of having a diverse workforce that is full of people who offer a variety of skills and different ways of thinking.”

Claire Cookson, Chief Executive Officer of the DFN Foundation and DFN Project SEARCH, who contributed to the report, said: “The Buckland Review is a welcome focus on improving England’s shockingly low employment rates for people with autism or a learning disability. Evidence shows that young people who are autistic want to work and, given the right support, can go on to a wide variety of paid permanent jobs.

“What we need now is more ambition. From supported internships for young people to Employer Champion training for businesses, there are tools available to make autistic people achieve their potential in the workplace. And we know that if employers and providers can get it right for autism, they can get it right for everyone.”

Matthew Connell, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the Chartered Insurance Institute said: “This report contains hugely important insights for employers and professional bodies, and we will use it in our work on good practice and autism going forward. One key message in the report is that: ‘Best practice involves… adapting the working environment to meet the needs of all staff, leading to better team performance overall.

“This was a key finding of our work, with one supervisor saying: ‘I consciously adjust my managerial style for every individual I work with and believe this to be tremendously beneficial for everyone, not just those who identify with having a specific condition.’ Making the workplace more inclusive is not a cost, it is an investment in a better and more productive workplace for all. This report is key to both our society and our economy.”

Jolanta Lasota, Chief Executive of Ambitious about Autism, said:  “We know most autistic young people want to work but face stigma, rejection and a lack of opportunity in the current job market. This important review has shone a light on the woeful situation autistic people face and we’re pleased to see its focus on solutions to tackle these problems.

“As the review notes, access to education is a key foundation of working life, and therefore if we are serious about allowing autistic people greater access to the workplace, the education system must dramatically improve its offer to them. To that end, we would like to see a step change in support for autistic pupils at school – including mandatory training for teachers and careers advice tailored to autistic pupils.  As one of our young campaigners explained, ‘If there’s a gap, we fall down it’.

“There is now robust evidence that the longer people are out of work, the harder it is for them to gain and maintain employment. We want to stop this cycle before it begins for the next generation of autistic young people, by building a bridge from education into employment.”




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