Angus MP Mike Weir is calling on the Government to do more to close the autism employment gap once and for all. Over 100 MPs attended the launch of a new National Autistic Society report and campaign in Parliament on 31 October, which highlights the shockingly low levels of employment among autistic people and what employers and Government can do to close the autism employment gap.
Mike is backing the charity’s campaign, calling on the Government to ensure autistic people can access specialist support to help them find and stay in work, and bring in a national programme to raise employers’ awareness of the skills and potential of autistic people. The parliamentary launch of the campaign comes on the same day as the launch of the Government’s Work, Health and Disability green paper, which sets out its plans to help more people with disabilities and long term conditions into work.
The UK Government has pledged to halve the gap between disabled people’s employment levels and the rest of the population’s by increasing the disability employment rate from 47% to 64%. But the National Autistic Society’s latest research shows that the autism employment gap is even wider, with only 32% in some form of work. The charity wants the Government to make sure that autistic people benefit from its pledge and double the number of autistic people in work if they’re not to be left even further behind.
The charity has also released a short film, shot from the point of view of an autistic adult experiencing ‘too much information’ in a series of job interviews. The film’s star, played by autistic actor Max Green, becomes increasingly overwhelmed by anxiety and uncertainty about what’s being asked of him, to the point where he’s unable to demonstrate his ability to do the job. At the end of the film we see Max, outside the offices, upset and overwhelmed. The film finishes with the message: “I’m not unemployable, I’m autistic”.
“I’m proud to be backing the National Autistic Society’s campaign which reveals that fewer than 16% of autistic people are in full-time paid work and that this figure appears to have remained stubbornly low for the last decade.
“This clearly isn’t good enough. Government and businesses need to work together to help increase the numbers of autistic people in work. Many autistic people like Max, from the charity’s campaign video, who I had the pleasure of meeting, clearly have much to offer in the workplace. We need to make sure that employers know this and are able to open their doors to autistic people.”
The report, The autism employment gap: Too Much Information in the workplace, reveals findings from focus groups and a survey of over 2,000 autistic adults, or people responding on their behalf:
[if !supportLists]· [endif]Under 16% of respondents are in full-time paid work (static since 2007)*
[if !supportLists]· [endif]Only 32% are in some kind of paid work (full and part time combined), compared to 47% of disabled people and 80% of non-disabled people**
[if !supportLists]· [endif]Over three quarters (77%) who are unemployed say they want to work
[if !supportLists]· [endif]Four in 10 respondents say they’ve never worked
The autism employment gap is part of the National Autistic Society’s three-year Too Much Information campaign, which aims to transform public understanding of autism and open up the world for autistic people.
More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum. This means that someone sees, hears and feels the world in a different, often more intense, way to other people. Autistic people often find social situations difficult, can struggle to process information quickly and may be highly sensitive to sound or light or smells. This can make finding and staying in a job very difficult if managers, employers and colleagues don’t understand autism.
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 autistic people can be a real asset to businesses.
Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “Autistic people have a huge contribution to make to our economy and society, including in the workplace. But they’ve been repeatedly overlooked. We need leadership from politicians to tackle the autism employment gap once and for all, and so we are really pleased to have the support of [Name]. Today’s Work, Health and Disability green paper from the Government starts a welcome conversation about how to open up the workplace for disabled people, including autistic people.
“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. So we’re pleased that the green paper sees that employers have a key role to play in reducing the disability employment gap. For autism, businesses can follow the growing number of companies, such as GCHQ and Microsoft, which are supporting autistic people into work through specialist recruitment programmes or work experience.
“We believe there needs to be a national programme to make employers aware of the skills and potential of autistic people. But we also need to ensure that each autistic person gets the autism-specific support they need to find and stay in work.
“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.”
* A 2007 survey by the National Autistic Society found that 15% of autistic people were in full time employment. The new survey was 15.5% and does not represent a statistically significant change.
** Both of these stats are from the Office for National Statistics (2016) Dataset: A08: Labour
market status of disabled people (20 July 2016).