More Advice Needed For Autism Sufferers

Session: 2009/2010

Date: 04 March 2010

Reference: SD 10/09/10

As many as one third of unemployed adults with autism do not receive benefits. This was one of the surprising statistics which the influential Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Social Development considered during its review of the National Autistic Society’s “Don’t Write Me Off” report.

The Committee learned that the application process for benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance is lengthy, complex and that not enough is being done to facilitate claims from autism sufferers. It was suggested that this serves only to discourage claimants and can lead to poverty among this vulnerable group.

Committee Chairperson, Mr. Simon Hamilton, MLA said: “The Committee recognises that changes to benefits, including the introduction of ESA, are beyond the remit of the Department for Social Development. Nonetheless, the Committee expects the Department to put into place necessary measures to ensure that vulnerable claimants are able to manage the transition from the old benefits to the new.

“Members were particularly concerned to learn about sanctions, including benefit cuts, have been imposed on autism sufferers claiming ESA in Great Britain. The Committee believes that before sanctions are made, procedures must be modified. These modifications include ensuring that autism sufferers are identified at the application stage, that they are provided with Plain English information and are given access to a third party advocate if this is required. The Committee therefore welcomes some recent changes made by the Social Security Agency in this regard.

“The Committee agrees that no-one should be left behind by the welfare state. This means that all reasonable measures should be taken to help longer term claimants with mental health issues make informed decisions about their social security status.

“The Committee will be taking a great interest in this subject during the anticipated Committee Stage of the Welfare Reform Bill and will be seeking key assurances from the Department for Social Development.”

The Social Development Committee expects to be seeking formal written and oral feedback from stakeholders on Welfare Reform issues during its consideration of important primary legislation after Easter.

Further information on the Social Development Committee can be found at: http://archive.niassembly.gov.uk/social/2007mandate/socialhome_07.htm

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