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Employment: Autism

Volume 499: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what recent guidance has been issued to staff at Jobcentre Plus on assisting people diagnosed with autism into work; and if she will make a statement. (298151)

[holding answer 9 November 2009]: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the acting chief executive, Mel Groves. I have asked him to reply to the hon. member with the information requested.

Letter from Mel Groves:

The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question about what recent guidance has been issued to staff at Jobcentre Plus on assisting people diagnosed with autism into work. This is something which falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Acting Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.

Jobcentre Plus policy is to develop its staff in the skills required to support a range of customers and to respect their individual needs, including those related autism. This approach ensures that they are equipped to deal with a diverse set of circumstances whilst treating customers as individuals. Skilled employment advisors look at the interaction between the person, the job and the person’s ability. Advisors ensure that job goals relate to the person’s abilities and that relevant solutions are identified in order to overcome any barriers a customer might face in a particular job.

Jobcentre Plus advisors are introduced to “guide notes” as part of their training, which include background information on a number of conditions, including autism, the implications for interviews and how to use questioning techniques in order to support customers. Disability Employment Advisors focus on customers that need more extensive support and receive further levels of skills training appropriate to their customers, including skills practice in interviewing an autistic person to drive home learning points.

In May 2009, Jobcentre Plus advisors were issued with a reminder, specifically about the information on autism that is held on our intranet site, to help reinforce the learning they have already undertaken to assist people with autism into work. Advisors were also reminded that Access to Work may be able to support autistic customers who are starting a job, by providing a job coach for a short period, or autism awareness training to the customer’s colleagues. We are currently reviewing how Access to Work support can be improved and any resulting changes will benefit autistic people.

Jobcentre Plus has also recently engaged with two autism telephone tutorials held by the Employers Forum on Disability. The events were publicised on our business intranet site. Staff were encouraged to participate and actively did so. Events such as these help to develop an even greater understanding of autism and the issues related to employment.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps she is taking to help people diagnosed with autism into employment; and if she will make a statement. (298152)

[holding answer 9 November 2009]: We are fully committed to supporting disabled people, including those diagnosed with autism, to find suitable, sustainable work.

Disability employment advisors can advise a customer about suitable job opportunities and specialised support available to disabled people. If necessary they can also advocate on a customer’s behalf (by negotiating with employers), refer customers for an occupational health assessment, and use the professional expertise of work psychologists, who specialise in working with disabled people.

Disability employment advisors also have the discretion to use job introduction scheme funding in situations where a disabled applicant is considered suitable for a post, but the employer has genuine doubts about the individual’s ability to cope with the proposed job or place of work. The job introduction scheme can provide a grant to the employer towards the employment costs incurred during the first weeks of employment.

Jobcentre Plus has a number of specialist programmes that help disabled people move into paid work, some of which are only accessible through disability employment advisors. These programmes include work preparation, residential training and Workstep (a programme of supported employment).

Disabled people going into paid work may also be able to benefit from access to work, which provides practical advice and support to disabled people and their employers to help overcome work related obstacles resulting from disability. Access to work provides a system of grants which contribute towards the cost of providing support, such as a job coach for a short period to help settle an autistic customer into work. Support can also be given to the customer in the form of awareness training on autism which can be delivered to the customer’s colleagues.

Jobcentre Plus staff are also provided with training in the skills required to manage a range of behaviours demonstrated by customers, covering a variety of health conditions. This approach ensures that they are equipped to deal with diverse circumstances while treating customers as individuals. Advisors look at the interaction between the person, the job and an individual’s ability and ensure that job goals relate to the customer’s abilities and that work solutions are sought to overcome any challenges a customer might face in a particular job.