House of Commons Library

Autism – overview of UK policy and services

Published Monday, April 1, 2019

This briefing provides an overview of policies and services for people with autism, primarily in England. 2019 marks ten years since the Autism Act 2009 was passed.

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It is estimated that more than half a million people in England have autism, which is equivalent to more than 1% of the population. There is however no national register or exact count kept of the number of people with the condition.

Successive Governments have pledged to improve outcomes for people with autism. It is ten years since the Autism Act was passed in 2009 - the Act was the first disability specific piece of legislation. It committed the Government to producing a strategy for adults with autism. In 2010, the Government produced the first autism strategy for England, Fulfilling and rewarding lives. The associated statutory guidance for local authorities and NHS organisation supported the strategy’s implementation, and included duties and recommendations on areas including training of staff, identification and diagnosis of autism, and local service provision. The strategy was updated in 2014 – Think Autism built on the 2010 strategy and set a renewed focus on three key areas: building communities that are aware of autism; promoting innovation in service provision; and providing integrated care.

Think Autism and the revised statutory guidance contain duties and recommendations for service providers and Government departments across areas including employment, welfare, criminal justice, transport and education services. A progress report on the implementation of Think Autism was published in January 2016.

Legislation has introduced new duties for services for people with autism, including the Care Act 2014 which provides that all staff who undertake autism assessments must have appropriate training, and the Children and Families Act 2014 which provides for a new special education needs and disability support system, covering education, health and social care.

In December 2018, the Government announced that it would be launching a comprehensive review of Think Autism to ensure that it remains fit for purpose. It further announced that it was working with the Department of Education to extend the strategy to include children.

Further commitments to improve services for people with autism were included in the 2019 NHS Long Term Plan including: the introduction of a ‘digital flag’ in the patient record by 2023/24 to ensure staff know a patient has autism; providing information and training to NHS staff to support those with autism; ensuring reasonable adjustments are made so that wider NHS services can support people with learning disabilities or autism; and piloting the introduction of a specific health check for people with autism, and if successful, extending it more widely.

This note focuses on policies in England. Health is a devolved matter, and so each of the devolved administrations are responsible for setting their own policies in this area. However, the note briefly outlines strategies implemented by the Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in section 8. The House of Commons debated Services for People with Autism on 21 March 2019.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7172

Authors: Elizabeth Parkin; Robert Long; Manjit Gheera; Andy Powell; Tim Jarrett; Andrew Mackley; Shadi Danechi; Jacqueline Beard; Steven Kennedy; Alexander Bellis

Topics: Administration of justice, Community care, Crime, Diseases, Employment, Health services, Mental health, Prisons, Sickness, disability and carers' benefits

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