Autism charities cut back on key services as councils retrench

Nearly 40% of autism charities anticipate having to make cuts to services in the next year on the back of funding reductions from government, a report has found.

Respite care and leisure services for children or adults with autism are at particular risk, according to the study by New Philanthropy Capital, a think-tank that analyses the funding and effectiveness of charities.

The report, Changing Lives, also identified concerns that the implementation of the adult autism strategy would slip down councils’ list of priorities. The government is due to publish statutory guidance on implementing the strategy this week.

Report author Sarah Hedley said: “Autism charities are facing tough times, especially as many of them rely on local government contracts.

Funding cuts are forcing charities to rethink what services they provide and in some cases work will have to be scaled back or stopped altogether.

“Services such as leisure and respite care are often a lifeline for people with autism and their families, but are likely to be the hardest hit.”

The autism strategy is designed to provide people with the condition with better job and life opportunities, improve diagnosis and support, and boost awareness of autism. It is is underpinned by the Autism Act 2009, which means that councils and NHS bodies will be required to comply with the statutory guidance, which will cover areas such as assessments, transitions and staff training.

Mark Lever, chief executive of The National Autistic Society, warned: “As local authorities set their budgets, they need to take account of the new legal duties coming into force under the Autism Act, and not allow people with autism to continue to fall between the gaps in services.”

The report also raised charities’ concerns about education for children with autism. Over a third of charities that responded to the survey believed the government’s plans to create academies will have a negative effect on education for children with autism.

NPC’s report made five recommendations. It said that charities should reassess their financial models and their organisational structures in light of the changing funding and policy context. However funders can smooth this transition by funding core costs, it added.

It urged charities to maintain lobbying work, targeting both national and local government, and highlighted how funding could be used to encourage the sharing of good practice and to develop partnerships between organisations.

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