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

Autistic Employment Review should be expanded to include people with learning disabilities, say Mencap

Mencap has welcomed the government’s new Autistic Employment Review, but highlights the importance of including people with learning disabilities, with just 27% in paid work.

The review, led by Robert Buckland KC MP, is designed to boost the employment prospects of autistic people and close the employment gap. It aims to consider issues including:

  • how employers identify and support autistic staff in their workforce;
  • what could be done to better prepare autistic people for beginning or returning to a career;
  • which practices or initiatives could be adopted to reduce stigma and improve the productivity of autistic employees.

It will also develop solutions that are acceptable to autistic people, feasible to employers and improve autistic people’s employment outcomes.

Less than three in 10 autistic people in work

The Autistic Employment Review is supported by the charity Autistica and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), but Mr Buckland says he will also work with other autism charities, autistic people and employers to help identify the barriers to work and ensure autistic people can progress in their careers.

Currently, fewer than three in 10 autistic people are in work, compared to 76% of working-age adults. Dr James Cusack, Chief Executive of Autistica, says he hopes the review will prompt a “rethink” to how we approach autistic people’s access to work.

“The benefits for autistic people and society will be huge if we can give autistic people the opportunity to work and thrive in employment. That’s why as a charity we want 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. 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,” he said.

Supporting people to gain and retain employment

The government says that many of the adjustments and initiatives that would benefit autistic people could also be of benefit to other neurodiverse people, but Mark Capper, Head of Development at the learning disability charity Mencap, says he would like to see more of a focus on people with learning disabilities.

He said: “People with autism and/or a learning disability face many barriers moving into work, including lack of support to find roles, inaccessible recruitment practices and a lack of support to build skills. Through training programmes like Mencap’s supported internships programme, people can be successfully supported into work while gaining skills, practical job experience, and confidence.

“We look forward to inputting into the review and would like to see more funding for specialist programmes, particularly for people over 25, and an expansion to include people with a learning disability. We look forward to a future where autistic people and/or people with a learning disability, who have so much to offer, receive the support they need to move into and stay in work.”

More funding needed to support Autistic Employment Review

Tim Nicholls, Head of Influencing and Research at the National Autistic Society, said the review represents a “valuable step forward to closing the employment gap”, but warns more funding will be needed if autistic people are to get the support they need.

He said: “Autistic people have a huge amount to offer employers, and more and more businesses are recognising the benefits of having a diverse workforce full of people who offer a variety of skills and different ways of thinking. But still many autistic people face huge barriers in finding and staying in work. Better understanding of autism in the work place could transform thousands of autistic people’s lives.

“This review alone won’t ensure autistic people are able to fully realise their potential in the work place 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.”

Ambitious about Autism’s Chief Executive, Jolanta Lasota, has similarly welcomed the review, but has called for more employment support for autistic young people in the education system.

She said: “We run a successful national employment programme for autistic young people, called Employ Autism, so we know what works and look forward to sharing our evidence and best practice with the review team.

“We also know that to achieve real change we need to improve understanding and support for autistic young people from their earliest days at school right through to transition to work. At the moment, too many young people are being written off by an education system that can’t meet their needs.”

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