CAROLINE ANSELL MP: Autism and employment opportunities

MP Caroline Ansell meeting Max, an autistic actor promoting employment opportunities SUS-160211-113230001
MP Caroline Ansell meeting Max, an autistic actor promoting employment opportunities SUS-160211-113230001

Giving opportunity to all is a major reason why I became an MP and one of the major reasons why I supported Theresa May to be Prime Minister.

This country has to work for everyone - the Prime Minister has made that vow - and now the time is set for action.

So this week I was hugely encouraged by the Government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap.

This is just the sort of issue to be tackled if we want a fairer society.

And the figures do not make for good reading.

Less than five out of every 10 disabled people had a job in 2015.

This contrasts with more than eight out of 10 people without a disability in work.

To halve this gap would give more than one million more disabled people employment.

It’s clear then there is an enormous waste of human potential and a great pool of talented people with disabilities that businesses need to be aware of.

To tackle the problem, the Government plans to enable employers to apply for £500 after three months’ employment so that they can provide ongoing support to a disabled employee or someone with a long term health problem.

I also welcome a consultation on reform of the Work Capability Assessment test for benefits and ideas like a review of statutory sick pay and GP ‘fit notes’ to encourage people to make phased returns to work.

But other key areas will be about tackling prejudice and misunderstandings about mental health problems and disability so these are ambitious goals, but ones I feel very passionate about.

To that end, I have given my support to the National Autistic Society’s (NAS) timely call to employers to offer people with autism the chance of employment and apprenticeships to help fight prejudice.

(NAS) found only 16 per cent of autistic adults were in full-time jobs even though 77 per cent want to work.

Employers’ fears about those with neuro-diversity not being ‘team players’ or ‘difficult’ must be tackled with education and awareness.

In my work as patron of two local disability charities, Hearing Link and Families For Autism, I have also seen 
first-hand how difficult it can be to find work.

Local initiatives such as Families for Autism’s partnership with Eastbourne Job Centre Plus to equip those struggling to find suitable work with the skills to take their next step is a wonderful example of a local solution.

Similarly, Project SEARCH aims to secure sustainable paid employment for young people with learning disabilities and it’s doing great work.

But if there is to be progress to close this employment gap then government and charities can only do so much.

Society must confront its own prejudices too and take responsibility, if we are to advance toward equality.