People with Learning Disabilities and Autism: Celebrating Achievements

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons on 11th February 2019.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

What steps she is taking to celebrate the achievements of people with learning disabilities and autism in employment and outside of employment.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

It is really important to recognise and celebrate the achievements and contributions, in all aspects of life, of people with learning disabilities and autism. Disability Confident highlights achievements of disabled people, including those with learning disabilities. Most recently, the high-profile November and December campaign reached more than 16 million people on Twitter alone. We are investing in new support and employment opportunities too, and we also work with charities such as Autism Exchange and the Speaking Out Forum.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

My constituent, Sam Prowse, has been chosen as a winner on the inaugural Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List announced recently. He was chosen for his work with Hertfordshire County Council as an adviser supporting the library service on autism and on making information easy to read. Does the Minister agree that this list is a good way of celebrating the achievements of people such as Sam who give a great deal to the local community?

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for raising this matter. I very much support the inaugural Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List. I thank Sam for his contribution to his community and congratulate him on his achievement. There are so many unsung heroes in all our communities and it is always a pleasure to have an opportunity such as this. The Prime Minister’s award, Points of Light, provides another excellent way of highlighting the contribution of disabled people to our society.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

I must congratulate Mr Sheerman on his magnificent tie. I had thought that perhaps it depicted fireworks, but I am advised by a scholarly source that it would be more accurate to say that it depicts tropical foliage.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

For the information of the House, I am wearing a Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” vintage tie. I feel that, at the present moment in this country, I am on a magical mystery tour.

May I use this question to beg the Front-Bench team not to be condescending and patronising about people with different abilities? So many of the people on the autism spectrum with whom I work are extremely talented. They are unusual; they think differently. Many companies today are looking for people with that sort of quirky talent in the tech industries and much else. Let us not condescend; let us put more money, influence and resources into finding that talent and supporting it.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I absolutely share the hon. Gentleman’s passion and enthusiasm for speaking up and out for people with autism, who do have many special skills and talents. It is a pleasure to work with so many people on the autistic spectrum—people who are neuro-diverse—and to hear of their experiences in setting up businesses and in making real contributions to their places of work. I absolutely join him in speaking up for the huge benefit they bring to all of us in society.

Photo of Kirstene Hair Kirstene Hair Conservative, Angus

Recently in my constituency, I held a Disability Confident event where I signed up many new employers in Angus and heard success stories of constituents of mine who have benefited from the scheme. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should be encouraging Members across this House to have a similar event so that we can see the successes of the Disability Confident campaign?

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking that initiative. She is an absolute champion of enabling people to reach their full potential in society through work. I pay tribute to the many hon. Members across the political divide who have joined Disability Confident and who are getting out and having events in their constituency. We should all be proud that, for the first time in our country, there are more disabled people in work than out of work, so the nation can draw on that rich talent pool.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I support the comments of my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman. Is it not true that, because of their recruitment processes, many employers are missing out on the talent and the enrichment that employing someone with autism would bring? People do not even get that first opportunity. What more can the Minister do to support employers to think again about the way they go about recruiting people and to give the opportunity to a wider range of people to get that first chance?

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady makes a really important point. We do not want employers to miss out on this fantastic talent pool of people. Through Disability Confident, we are able to provide free and extremely valuable resources to employers to show them how they can make reasonable adjustments regarding the recruitment, retention and management of people on the spectrum in the workplace. That is really important. I am sure that her question will raise awareness of the free, fantastic resources that are available to all employers through Disability Confident.