The National Autistic Society has warned that measures proposed in the Welfare Reform Bill could “damage the employment prospects” of more than 300,000 adults with autism.
The Bill, which received its second reading at the House of Commons this week, proposes a tougher benefits regime that would require many disabled people claiming the Employment Support Allowance to undertake specific work-related activity or else face a series of sanctions.
Unclear on safeguarding
NAS chief executive Mark Lever said that as it stood it was unclear how the Bill would safeguard adults with autism against them being discriminated against by benefits staff and employers.
He said: “Due to their social and communication difficulties the behaviour of someone with autism can also be easily misinterpreted and they may be mistakenly labelled as ‘difficult’ or unco-operative.
“We are deeply concerned that people with autism are at an increased risk of facing compulsory work programmes and hefty sanctions due to misunderstandings related to their condition.”
Purnell says job advisers will be sensitive
Speaking at the House of Commons debate, work and pensions secretary James Purnell said that the Department for Works and Pensions had collaborated with NAS to look at what training job advisers needed in order to help claimants who have autism.
He said: “We want to ensure that we are sensitive to those needs while giving people the right support.”
However, NAS head of policy and campaigns Amanda Batten said that while the organisation had worked with the DWP on “bits and pieces”, a lot more needed to be done.
She added: “The DWP has certainly not gone far enough. In reality it’s going to be very hit and miss whether Jobcentre Plus staff will know how to assess a person with autism. At the moment the training they receive is very limited.”
The Bill has now been sent to committee to undergo clause-by-clause scrutiny. The committee stage is expected to be completed early this March.