I am announcing today the Government’s intent to publish “Rewarding and fulfilling lives: The strategy for adults with autism in England (2010)” on 3 March. A copy will be placed in the Library and copies will be available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.
The Autism Act 2009 was a unique and groundbreaking piece of legislation which signalled this Government’s commitment to improve the lives both of people with autism, and their families—and it has been reinforced by a range of action across Government to boost the profile of autism across public services.
The Autism Act committed the Government to publishing a strategy for adults with autism in England no later than 1 April 2010. We are indebted to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Cheryl Gillan) and the all-party parliamentary group on autism for their work in bringing forward this legislation.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability and although some people can live relatively independently, others will require a lifetime of specialist care. There are approximately 400,000 adults with autistic spectrum conditions (ASC) in England, around half of whom have a learning disability.
Service-engendered barriers to education, employment and the wider community bring economic disadvantage, social isolation, and mental and physical ill-health for adults with ASC. Therefore, addressing social exclusion for adults with autism is an issue which demands a collective response from services across the public sector.
The autism strategy will set out very clearly what we want for people with autism, and indeed what they should expect from public services and their communities. This new national strategy is an ambitious statement of intent focusing on five core elements:
increasing awareness and understanding of autism;
developing a clear, consistent pathway for diagnosis in every area, which is followed by the offer of a personalised needs assessment;
improving access for adults with autism to the services and support they need to live independently within the community;
helping adults with autism into work;
and enabling local partners to plan and develop appropriate services for adults with autism to meet identified needs and priorities.
Each of these areas has its own chapter in the strategy. They have been chosen to reflect the findings of the consultation, the themes emerging from the external reference group which supported the strategy’s development and the conclusions of important studies such as the NAO report.
Last year’s National Audit Office report (5 June 2009) “Supporting People with Autism through Adulthood”, reveals widespread evidence of services not meeting need and made a case that investment in services, particularly to support people with high-functioning autism (including Asperger’s syndrome) into employment, would deliver substantial savings to the public purse.
The strategy is a practical document. It starts with a long-term vision, but its core is in laying the foundations for long-term change. The overall approach is shaped by existing policy, in particular:
tackling social exclusion;
personalisation of public services as articulated in “Putting People First”;
the emphasis on local solutions to meet local needs;
and above all the emphasis on fair chances and opportunities for all.
These form the backdrop to the strategy and give it much of its underlying direction. More specifically, the strategy recognises the breadth of existing policy and programmes that should deliver better for adults with autism. The strategy focuses on how to make these existing policies work better for adults with autism.
The strategy is reinforced by a range of actions across Government:
we are funding a study giving better data on the prevalence of autism in the adult population;
we will publish, before the end of March, a first-year delivery plan to set out in more detail the timescale for implementation in 2010-2011;
we will launch in early summer consultation on statutory guidance for health and social care bodies to support delivery, and publish that guidance before the end of the year;
there will be a new national programme board to oversee delivery;
we will develop delivery plans for years two and three of the strategy to maintain momentum;
and we will review the strategy in 2013.
I am confident that the strategy marks a key milestone on the journey towards full inclusion and equality for people with autism. But real success will depend, ultimately, not only on transforming services, but on changing attitudes across our society. This is not going to happen overnight. We need to work together to achieve our common goal of full inclusion and equality for people with autism.