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Volume 746: debated on Monday 17 June 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the findings of the campaign by the National Autistic Society, Push for Action, launched on 14 May. I declare an interest as vice-president of the National Autistic Society.

My Lords, the National Autistic Society’s Push for Action campaign coincides with the Government’s review of the 2010 adult autism strategy. We are already taking forward some of the campaign’s recommendations, and we will consider others that fall to government during the review, the investigative stage of which is due to last until the end of October.

I must say that I am encouraged by the Minister’s words. Four years after Parliament passed the groundbreaking Autism Act, this National Autistic Society report reveals that despite some progress far too many autistic adults are missing out on everyday support. A shocking 70% of adults and their carers say they get no help from social services, and this is not always down to money. Indeed, economic modelling by Deloitte shows that every pound invested in services for autistic adults with moderate needs brings a return of £1.30. When the Government review the autism strategy, will they consider providing an innovation fund so that local councils can provide the cost-effective services that all autistic adults need and actually demand?

My Lords, we will certainly consider the idea of an innovation fund during the course of the review. We have allocated some central funding already to support the implementation of the autism strategy, for example in commissioning a range of training products from expert bodies to support local areas and professionals. I hope the noble Lord will agree that the strategy and the statutory guidance that goes with it mark a great step forward for adults with autism in England. We now need to take an honest look at how it is all working and come up with further ideas and actions as necessary.

My Lords, I declare an interest as president of Ambitious about Autism. Can my noble friend confirm that the Government’s review of the adult autism strategy will pay close attention to the kind of day support services, such as the NAS’s Horizons service, which the recent Deloitte report, Ending the Other Care Crisis, has demonstrated not only leads to increased quality of life and reduced dependency but has clear economic benefits?

My noble friend draws attention to a very important strand of support for people with autism. Many people with this condition can benefit from small amounts of advocacy, help and support often through less formal support networks and not necessarily through the local authority. We will certainly be looking at that area.

I declare my autism interest in the register to the House. Does my noble friend accept that the Department of Health is the lead department on the Autism Act, but that other departments have responsibilities as part of the strategy? He will be aware of the finding of the Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals Chamber) in a case against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that the case has to be made that autism is different. Can I ask him to make sure that that case is made by his department to all other government departments involved in the care of people with autism?

I can give my noble friend that assurance. The autism strategy is, of course, a cross-government strategy. A number of departments will look at their role in supporting it, including the Department for Work and Pensions and the MoJ. I am hopeful that when we come out in October with some considered proposals, my noble friend will take heart from the fact that this has involved all relevant government departments.

My Lords, one of the great concerns of people with autism is the transition arrangements between young people and adults, particularly the difficulties created now that education and social care provision are separated in adult education centres for these children and young people. What is intended to ensure that this does not continue to disadvantage these young people?

My Lords, the Children and Families Bill, which was introduced into Parliament this month, will usher in from next year new joint arrangements for assessing and planning commissioning services for children and young people with special educational needs. We realise the difficulties that young people with autism can face in making that transition to adulthood. Under the autism strategy, my department and the Department for Education funded the social policy research unit at the University of York to examine how statutory services are currently supporting young people on the autistic spectrum. Its report, published in February, points the way to some important lessons that we should take on board during the review.

My Lords, despite the strategy, only 63 out of 152 local authorities have a pathway to diagnosis. Will the Minister give an assurance that the department will produce a clear guide for CCGs on how to commission the right diagnosis and support services?

My Lords, we are indeed currently supporting, along with NHS England, a practical guide for CCGs to support health professionals and others in implementing the adult autism statutory guidance, as well as the NICE guidelines on recognition, referral and diagnosis, and the management of adults on the autism spectrum. This will be published later in the summer through the Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health.

My Lords, I was recently privileged to chair a commission that looked for the first time at the large numbers of people who grow into old age with autism. I would very much like the noble Earl to assure the House that these people will not be ignored, will also receive diagnosis, and that professionals will be trained to ensure that a preventive support system of care is introduced so that it is not always crisis-driven. Can he tell us that?

I agree with the noble Baroness that the needs of those with autism in older age should not be forgotten. We will meet the National Autistic Society, following the publication next month of its report on autism and ageing, to see how we can support the taking forward of this work, which builds on that done by the autism and ageing commission in this House. We are also looking at the whole issue of the training of health professionals, in particular the core curricula for doctors, nurses and other clinicians.