Fit to Work in the UK, but Where?

Rory Patton

Most sick benefit seekers ‘are fit enough to work,” the London Evening Standard recently reported, in a very short summary of the report by The Department for Work and Pensions. The article quotes the Work and Pensions Minister Steve Webb as saying that many people are “able to work with the right help,” and that, “Those who cannot work will always receive our unconditional support but for those who can work it’s right they get the help they need to get into employment.”

The implication of the article seems to be that people are claiming benefits dishonestly. The Work and Pensions Select Committee expressed concern at the way claimants are portrayed by the media as “work shy.” The report of the select committee also raises concerns that the new procedures have not been adequately explained to claimants leaving some disabled people concerned that the goal is merely to cut their benefits.

I would like to draw the attention of our press and parliamentarians to some statistics on the National Autistic Society website:

  • Only 15% of adults with autism in the UK are in full-time paid employment.
  • 51% of adults with autism in the UK have spent time with neither a job, nor access to benefits, 10% of those having been in this position for a decade or more.
  • 61% of those out of work say they want to work.
  • 79% of those on Incapacity Benefit say they want to work.

The Government wants people on Incapacity Benefit to be helped into paid employment, 79% of those on Incapacity Benefit say they want to work. The question has to be, into what work will people with autism be helped?

Many of us are perfectly physically capable of working, many of us are more than an intellectual match to many in well-paid careers — so why are so many of us out of work? What allowances are not being made that prevent us from losing our employment? It is perfectly possible for someone with an autism spectrum disorder to work well for long periods, but what happens when that person has a melt down in front of customers, what happens when a sudden tic causes a tray of crockery to drop, what happens when that person’s ability to understand what people are saying suddenly closes down?

It is comparatively easy to make adaptations for physical disabilities, even for someone with a consistent mental problem, but how do you make allowances for something which happens suddenly, without warning? One moment a person on the spectrum may be working with perhaps a degree of agitation, the next an unexpected stimulus may propel them into conduct considered cause for dismissal.

It is good that he Government wants to help people into work, but it is essential that the jobs into which they help people with autism both take into account the problems of the person and guarantee them security of employment. A job that disappears suddenly may well be worse than no job at all.