Jobs and benefits system ‘condemns people with autism to poverty’


A deeply flawed employment and benefits system is condemning tens of thousands of adults with autism to financial hardship, according to a new report.

A third of adults with autism are surviving with no job and no benefits says the National Autistic Society (NAS).

Launching its Don’t Write Me Off campaign and report, the charity said there was a “woeful lack of understanding” of autism among employment and benefits advisers with the government’s Jobcentre Plus, and a “dearth” of specialist employment services.

There are believed to be more than 300,000 adults with autism of working age in the UK, and research suggests that just 15 per cent have full-time paid jobs.

Mark Lever, NAS chief executive, said: “People with autism say their experiences of the employment and benefits system are marred by anxiety, confusion, delays and discrimination.”

He said it was “scandalous” that so many were “consigned to poverty by a complex and counter-productive benefits system”, with many facing unnecessary delays in payment or being denied essential benefits.

An NAS survey of more than 320 people with autism found almost four-fifths of those on incapacity benefit (IB) want to work.

More than four-fifths need some help to apply for benefits, but NAS believes few are made aware of their right to an advocate.

The report also reveals serious problems with the new employment and support allowance (ESA) – which has replaced IB for new claimants – with complex forms and poor medical assessments and job-seeking support.

Paula Wharmby, who has autism, said her ESA application was “completely inflexible and intimidating” and no-one she dealt with “knew anything about autism”. She was only granted ESA after a tribunal appeal.

The report’s recommendations include: a national employment strategy for people with autism; the government to scrap the need to provide a sick note when applying for ESA; and a new network of autism coordinators across Jobcentre Plus.

NAS also wants people with autism to be told they have the right to an advocate when applying for ESA; and improved understanding of autism among Jobcentre Plus staff and doctors carrying out medical assessments.

The charity called on the government to include the recommendations in its adult autism strategy for England, due next spring, and also wants improvements from the three devolved governments.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said it was “determined to provide the best support possible” to help adults with autism into work, and was working with the NAS and other organisations to ensure the right help was available.

13 October 2009