The proportion of autistic people who are in full-time paid work has stagnated for the past decade at just under 16%, and a charity has called for the government to intervene to tackle this.
A survey of more than 2,000 autistic adults – or people responding on their behalf – included in a report from the National Autistic Society (NAS), also found that only 32% are in some kind of paid work – full or part-time – compared to 47% of disabled people and 80% of non-disabled people. Yet 77% who are unemployed say they want to work. Meanwhile, 4 in 10 say they've never worked.
The NAS said that autistic people have been repeatedly let down by government programmes and overlooked by employers over the past decade. The charity is calling for leadership from the government to tackle the autism employment gap by introducing specialist support to help autistic people to find and stay in work and launching a national programme to raise awareness of the skills and potential of autistic people among employers.
The government has pledged to halve the disability employment gap by the end of this Parliament, meaning that they have to increase the disability employment rate from 47% to 64%. But the autism employment gap is even wider and the government will need to double the number of autistic people in work to make sure they aren’t left behind.
More than 1 in 100 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum, including about 450,000 of working age. Not all autistic people are able to work, but, with understanding from their employer and colleagues, as well as reasonable adjustments to the interview process and workplace, many can be an asset to businesses.
An increasing number of employers, including Microsoft and GCHQ, are recognising the benefits of employing autistic people who can have strengths such as tenacity and thinking differently, which are great for problem solving. The NAS is encouraging other businesses and industries to follow their lead, while warning against stereotyping autistic people and assuming they all want to work in technology. Similar numbers of autistic people want to work in the arts (11% of respondents) and IT (10%), according to the charity’s research, But, like anyone else, autistic people have a range of different interests and skills and want to work across all sectors in a huge variety of jobs.
Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said: "Autistic people have a huge contribution to make to our economy and society, including in the workplace. But they've been repeatedly failed by government and overlooked by employers.
"Various governments have introduced schemes aimed at improving the disability employment rate. But it's not working for autistic people – just 16% are in full-time work and this hasn't improved in almost a decade. Our new Prime Minister [Theresa May] has called for a country that works for everyone, and that should include autistic people too.
"Many employers tell us they’re keen to recruit more autistic people but they don’t know where to go for support and they’re worried about getting it wrong. It’s clear that we need leadership from the Government to tackle the autism employment gap once and for all.
“A national programme to make employers aware of the skills and potential of autistic people would be a good start. But this needs to be accompanied by the introduction of autism-specific support to help autistic people find and stay in work. Employers also have a role to play by following the growing number of companies, such as GCHQ and Microsoft, which are supporting autistic people into work through specialist recruitment programmes or work experience.
“Not all autistic people are able to work. But many are and are desperate to find a job which reflects their talent and interests. With a little understanding and small adjustments to the workplace, they can be a real asset to businesses across the UK. Autistic people deserve that chance.”