Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:16 pm on 29th March 2018.

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Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 3:16 pm, 29th March 2018

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this; I know that he has done so at Health questions in the past. The Department of Health and Social Care does not in any way condone any of the so-called cures or remedial substances that are being proffered. We do not think that any of them are any good whatsoever.

Last year, NICE’s indicator advisory committee recommended including autism diagnosis in a menu of GP indicators. A review of the quality and outcomes framework is being undertaken by NHS England, and it will conclude later this spring. NHS England has confirmed that the GP autism register will be considered in the context of this work.

We know that there are sometimes issues with the health gap. Helen Hayes raised the case of her constituent, Matthew, which shows how horrible things can be when they do go wrong. I will be very happy to meet her to ensure that Matthew’s experience is not in vain.

Many Members raised issues around employment. We know that having a job is not just about earning a living, as it also contributes to people’s wellbeing, gives them a sense of belonging and purpose, and builds self-confidence and self-esteem. Through the Disability Confident scheme, the Department for Work and Pensions is engaging with employers and helping to promote the skills, talents, abilities and value of people with autism. Additionally, Access to Work has a hidden impairment support team that gives advice and guidance to help employers to support employees with conditions such as autism, to offer eligible people an assessment to find out their needs at work, and to help to develop a support plan.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow, the brilliant Chair of the Education Committee, who is passionate about apprenticeships, made a brilliant point about the need for more focus on ensuring that children do not drop off the edge when they leave school. We will certainly take that forward. In December, the DWP published “Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability”, which set out how it will deliver on its ambitious plan to help 1 million more people with a range of disabilities into work.

On the civil service becoming an autism-friendly employer, we have committed to support the autism exchange programme, and the civil service is working with Ambitious about Autism to provide work placement opportunities for young people.

On access to democracy, under Representation of the People Acts, polling stations must be as accessible as possible to disabled voters. We recognise that there might be specific challenges, and we will explore with the Electoral Commission what further adjustments can be made.

A few Members talked about the criminal justice system. The Ministry of Justice is working with the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service to develop a guide to help officers to identify people with autism. That is now included as part of all police training. NHS England has also issued a revised liaison and diversion specification, which includes autism. To date, eight prisons and young offenders institutions, including Feltham, where the programme started, are part of the criminal justice accreditation scheme, and another 35 are currently looking at the process.

I am really disappointed to hear examples from Members across the House of bad experiences with jobcentre staff, PIP, work capability assessments and so on. All healthcare professionals conducting work capability assessments and other things receive extensive training regarding autism spectrum disorder as part of their new entrant training. All work coaches in jobcentres receive the same training, but I will pass those comments on to the Department for Work and Pensions.

Thangam Debbonaire is clearly a true champion for autism in her local area, and I give her massive credit for what she does. She mentioned loneliness. I will be working closely with the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch, in developing the cross-Government strategy on loneliness, which is supported by the Prime Minister.

We have heard wonderful examples of great community projects offering fantastic support in different Members’ local areas, and I should give a shout-out to the incredible Marvels and Meltdowns in my constituency—a blatant plug.

Patricia Gibson mentioned poor mental health. Obviously that is not an inevitable consequence of autism, but if someone has autism and a mental health problem, it is essential that they can get the appropriate help and support.

Dr Cameron highlighted worrying figures about suicide. We are committed to tackling suicide in every community and for everyone who is at risk, and we updated the national suicide prevention strategy last year to strengthen delivery on key areas.

I want to join Paula Sherriff in paying tribute to the National Autistic Society and its Too Much Information campaign, Autism Alliance, Autistica and various other charities throughout the country that do fantastic work to raise awareness and offer support.

We all want to live in a world and in a country where autism is never a barrier to the opportunity afforded to others. World Autism Awareness Week enables us to continue keeping this issue high on the agenda and in the minds of policy makers, professionals and members of the public alike, which is where it should be.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
notes that World Autism Awareness Week 2018 runs from 26 March to 2 April;
believes that there is a lack of understanding of the needs of autistic people and their families;
and calls on the Government to improve the support provided to autistic children in school and to autistic adults in or seeking employment, to reduce waiting times for autism diagnosis, and to promote a public awareness campaign so people can make the changes necessary for the UK to become autism-friendly.