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Employing People on the Autistic Spectrum

Volume 609: debated on Tuesday 3 May 2016

6. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the support and guidance for businesses on employing people on the autistic spectrum. (904768)

Through our one nation reforms, we are committed to a labour market that allows everyone to fulfil their obligations and opportunities wherever and whoever they are, including those with autism. That is why the Prime Minister launched the Disability Confident campaign, and why we have continued to spend over £100 million a year on the Access to Work scheme, helping over 36,000 people with disabilities into work. We have published guidance to employers on employing people with autism, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Skills and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise recently met Autism UK and the all-party group on autism.

The autism employment gap is much larger than the disability employment gap, with only 15% in full-time employment and 26% of graduates remaining employed. We are losing the potential that people with autism spectrum disorder can offer to our economy. What specific programmes and support will be provided to employers and jobseekers to close this startling gap, and will the Government produce disaggregated data to evidence progress?

The hon. Lady makes an important point, and I pay tribute to her work on this. As I said, we are investing substantially in this area, and through the Disability Confident campaign, we are actively engaging with employers of different sizes and sectors to promote access to work for people with autism. We launched the latest part of that campaign on World Autism day, on 2 April. We do not think that quotas are the right way to go. We want to encourage employers and we want those with autism to know that good employers will recognise and reward their skills.

Many skill-based jobs are perfect for people suffering from autism, with computer coding and programming being a prime example, given the rigid structure of the work. Will the Minister work with me to help promote coding within Cornwall and to support people who wish to get involved in skill-based work?

I would be delighted to work with my hon. Friend and with other Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Work and Pensions, and I commend him for his leadership on this excellent initiative.

When will the Government follow the example of Leicester City football club and try to get into the premiership on this question? There are so many talented people on the autism spectrum desperate and waiting for a job, many of them in regions such as Yorkshire, yet we are faced with uncertainty for everyone—apprentices, people with autism—because of this great cloud that is the possibility of our leaving the EU. No one is investing or hiring.

Even for me, it would be a stretch to delve into the EU on this question. The Government are investing £100 million a year in the Access to Work scheme, helping 36,000 people with disabilities into work, so we are absolutely committed to this agenda. People with autism have a lot to offer in the workplace, and we are serious about giving them opportunities.

April is Autism Awareness month, and earlier this month, The Economist led with an article on how the talents and skills of people with autism and on the autistic spectrum are potentially being wasted. It said that if businesses were encouraged to take more friendly approaches to recruitment and to deploy the appropriate skills, we could have many more people in the workplace. We had a fascinating and moving debate last week on autism, during which many Members shared moving experiences of their own children, including my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Mike Weir) and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan). Will the Minister meet me and a cross-party delegation to discuss how we can get businesses properly to mark the number of people on the autism spectrum and how we can work together more across the House?

I was going to invite the hon. Lady to seek an Adjournment debate, until I realised that in fact she had had it.

I will restrict my answer, Mr Speaker. The right meeting would be with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whose Department leads on this issue, and with the Ministers for Skills and for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise. We are actively engaging with all the relevant charities on this issue.

I hope that the hon. Lady is content with that answer, although, whether she is or is not, she has had it.