Shadow of spending cuts hangs over autism consultation


The coalition government has launched a consultation on the guidance that will provide the “teeth” of the new Autism Act in England.

But it has already warned that the new draft guidance for social care and health services should be seen in the “context” of cuts to public spending.

The Department of Health said it would examine the “relative costs and benefits” of any measures that “may require additional investment or redistribution of funding”. For example, the consultation document warns that the government would “explore the cost and benefits of issuing guidance that training be available to all staff”.

The guidance, which also covers issues such as provision of services and assessments of people’s needs, will support the adults with autism strategy, Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives. But it will not be finalised until after the end of the government’s spending review in October.

In March, the Autistic Rights Movement UK (ARM UK) heavily criticised the autism strategy for its failure to demand real change from councils and health trusts, its “weak” language and “derisory” funding of £500,000.

Russell Stronach, co-chair of ARM UK, welcomed what appeared to be a genuine consultation process on the draft guidance, although he has yet to examine the document closely.

But he said the warning on public spending cuts was “just a loophole to give them the freedom to do what the hell they please”.

Stronach said he was particularly concerned at the Department of Health’s continuing failure to work closely on the autism strategy with groups led by people with autism.

He said: “If they would talk to us they would know what we need, not what they think we need. If they give us what they think we need, the outcomes are likely to be disastrous.”

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat care services minister, said the consultation would “help shape our priorities as we seek to help adults with autism live fulfilling and rewarding lives”.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “This is the vital next step people with autism and their families have been waiting for.

During the passage of the Autism Act, parliament described this statutory guidance as the ‘teeth’ of the act, so it is vital that it secures real and lasting change at ground level.”

He urged people with autism and carers to take part in the consultation to ensure the guidance was “robust” and could be used to “hold their local services to account”.

The consultation closes on 22 October. The final guidance will be published by the end of 2010.

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29 July 2010


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