New five-year strategy launched to improve the lives of autistic people

The Government has launched a new strategy which prioritises tackling the inequalities and barriers autistic people face, and faster diagnoses and better access to health and social care for autistic adults and children.

21/07/21

New five-year strategy launched to improve the lives of autistic people

The Government has launched a new multi-million-pound strategy today with a focus on improving the lives of autistic people.

The Government says the five-year strategy was developed following engagement with autistic people, their families and carers and aims to speed up diagnosis and improve support and care for autistic people. It also says it will support autistic children and adults through better access to education, more help to get into work, preventing avoidable admissions to healthcare settings, and training for prison staff to better support prisoners with complex needs.

There are approximately 700,000 autistic people in the UK and a large number experience health inequalities during their lives, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges many autistic people already face, such as loneliness and social isolation, and anxiety.

The life expectancy gap for autistic people is approximately 16 years on average compared to the general population and almost 80% of autistic adults experience mental health problems during their lifetime.

Launching the new strategy, Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said improving the lives of autistic people is a “priority”, and the proposals will “create a society that truly understands and includes autistic people in all aspects of life.”

“It will reduce diagnosis waiting times for children and adults and improve community support for autistic people,” Javid said. “This is crucial in reducing the health inequalities they face, and the unacceptable life expectancy gap that exists today.”

The plan is backed by nearly £75 million in the first year, with £40 million funding included through the NHS Long Term Plan to improve capacity in crisis services and support children with complex needs in inpatient care.

The new strategy has been developed with the views and experiences of autistic people provided in response to the Government’s call for evidence in 2019, with its recommendations due to run until 2026.

The call for evidence highlighted the need to improve understanding and acceptance of autism within society, which the Government plans to combat by developing and testing an initiative to improve the public’s understanding of autistic people – both the strengths and positives as well as the challenges, working with autistic people, their families and the voluntary sector.

It says this will help people recognise the diversity of the autistic community and will include measures to improve understanding of the strengths and positives of being autistic, as well as the challenges people might face in their daily lives and how distressed behaviour can manifest itself.

Minister for Children and Families Vicky Ford said autistic people faced “unacceptable barriers” in many aspects of their lives, such as health and education.

“A huge part of how we can address the inequalities that these children and young people face is by increasing our awareness and understanding of their needs, and tailoring the support available to them,” Ford said, adding: “Working closely with the healthcare services, we can level up outcomes for autistic young people in generations to come.”

The call for evidence also highlighted the need to tackle health and care inequalities and build the right support in the community and supporting people in inpatient care. The Government says it plans to reduce diagnosis waiting times and increase availability of post-diagnostic support for children and adults, and address backlogs of people waiting made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will also provide £40 million as part of the NHS Long Term Plan to improve community support and prevent avoidable admissions of autistic people and those with a learning disability, and £18.5 million to prevent crises and improve the quality of inpatient mental health settings.

Minister for Care Helen Whately said the plan will help to put autistic people on an equal footing with prospects.

“Far too many autistic people still struggle to get the support they need in childhood, and as adults – and this is often exacerbated by not getting a timely diagnosis.”

Caroline Stevens, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, welcomed the new strategy.

“We and our supporters have long campaigned for a fully funded public understanding campaign, significant investment in reducing diagnosis waiting times and better post-diagnostic support. No one should feel judged for being autistic, or to have to wait many months for a potentially life-changing diagnosis and vital help and support,” Stevens said.

“We’re really pleased to see concrete actions to tackle this in the first year of the new strategy, alongside other important commitments. The following 4 years will be just as vital. It’s crucial that the government invest in autistic people, and finally create a society that really works for autistic children, adults and their families.”

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