On the second hearing of the Welfare Reform Bill, The National Autistic Society (NAS), the UK's leading autism charity, today (Tuesday 27 January) voiced concern that new legislation could actually damage the employment prospects of the over 300,000 working age adults with autism in the long term.
Mark Lever, chief executive of The National Autistic Society, said:
"If the Government are serious about getting people with conditions such as autism back into work, they must uphold their end of the 'something for something' bargain and invest in specialist support.
"We are deeply concerned that people with autism are at an increased risk of facing inappropriate compulsory work programmes and hefty sanctions, due to misunderstandings related to their condition. Too inflexible an approach may only increase the stress and anxiety people with autism are already under and could actually damage their employment prospects in the long term.
"Autism is a hidden disability and the level of help people require isnt always obvious to people with no knowledge of the condition. Due to their social and communication difficulties the behaviour of someone with autism can also be easily misinterpreted and they may be mistakenly labelled as 'difficult' or unco-operative.
"It is currently unclear how the Bill will safeguard vulnerable people with conditions such as autism and ensure that the appropriate training and support are in place to prevent them from being discriminated against. This urgently needs to be addressed. Many people with autism want to work and have valuable skills to offer prospective employers. However, with only 15% of adults with the condition currently in full-time paid employment, the need to explore the unique barriers to work faced by people with autism is shockingly clear."