Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:52 pm on 29th March 2018.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham 12:52 pm, 29th March 2018

The hon. Gentleman anticipates another bit of my speech. That is really important, because people with autism are disproportionately not being taken off the unemployment register. In fact only yesterday, with the all-party group for disability, I had a joint meeting with the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills to look at the problems and consider how, working with employers’ organisations and the Government, we can try to improve the situation.

More councils now include autism in their joint strategic needs assessment, and almost every local area has a diagnostic pathway—those that do not will know who they are, but all but three are covered. That is really significant progress, but let us face it there is not a person in the House who does not know that we need to make more progress in this area, so I do not say that with any sense of complacency whatsoever.

I want to touch on a few areas, but I have only limited time. I have been very impressed by the number of Members on both sides of the House who have put in to speak, and it is really important that I hear from them.

I will start by talking briefly about education. My hon. Friends the Members for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) and for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) recently chaired an inquiry into autism and education under the umbrella of the APPG. They did some fantastic work, looking at how the education system in England currently works for children. The inquiry involved evidence sessions and surveys, and took additional evidence from more than 3,000 parents, professionals and people on the autism spectrum. It found that children are being held back from achieving their full potential because they are autistic. In our surveys, nearly 70% of parents told us that they had waited for more than six months for support at school, and 50% had waited for more than a year.