Page last updated at 03:49 GMT, Tuesday, 13 October 2009 04:49 UK

Autistic jobseekers 'written off'

Jobcentre Plus sign
The NAS says Jobcentre Plus staff lack understanding of autism

People with autism are condemned to financial hardship by poor employment and benefits support, a charity says.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) is calling for a national strategy to help people with autism into work.

NAS chief executive Mark Lever said people with autism experienced "anxiety, confusion, delays and discrimination" when using services.

The Department for Work and Pensions said it was "determined to provide the best support possible" to them.

It is absolutely vital (people with autism) are able to access the right help and services
Mark Lever, National Autistic Society

Launching its "Don't Write Me Off" campaign, the NAS says a majority of the over 300,000 working age adults with autism in the UK want to work but only 15% are in full-time paid employment.

The charity says a key problem is a lack of understanding of autism among Jobcentre Plus staff, who determine eligibility for benefits and provide employment support.

It is calling for the government to introduce autism coordinators who would work with frontline staff, local employers and employment support services.

Mr Lever said: "It is absolutely vital [people with autism] are able to access the right help and services if seeking employment and are supported financially when they cannot work."

'Multitude of problems'

The charity says many people with autism are experiencing difficulties when applying for the new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

The ESA replaced incapacity benefit in October 2008. The change was designed to encourage more people into work if they are able.

But the NAS says many people with autism are experiencing a "multitude of problems".

Paula Wharmby said she found the process of applying for the ESA inflexible and intimidating.

"It was clear nobody knew anything about autism and a report from my psychiatrist on my difficulties was completely ignored.

"I was denied the benefit and had to go to a tribunal to have the decision overturned.

"The system just isn't working for people like me."

In a statement, the DWP said it was working with the National Autistic Society and other groups to ensure help was available, and that the government would publish its Autism Strategy in due course.

The statement added: "We understand that people with autism have complex needs so we have arrangements in place to help, such as bringing along someone to represent them in adviser interviews if needed.

"We are determined to provide the best support possible to help them get into work, which is why our wide range of personalised support looks at what people can do, rather than what they can't."



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SEE ALSO
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