Whilst casting my vote in the General Election yesterday afternoon there was only one thing on my mind: Which party will better serve the growing autistic population in the UK? The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democratic parties all made the same vague promises when prompted by autism advocates; improvements to teaching, work and better mental health services. However, with social care at its worst in a decade, it is vital the next government acts.
I do not profess to know a great deal about the politics of our country, my interest has grown in recent years as I have seen the shortfall suffered by the Welfare System first hand, and how disproportionately our mental health care services have been cut. At the start of the coalition David Cameron was quoted saying “In these time of tight budgets, we need to make sure the money we do spend is better spent. If we don’t we are failing disabled people and their families.’ I am yet to see any money being well spent in this area, or at least certainly not in all areas of disability; for those that are more hidden the age old problem of identification and acknowledgement remains. The mental health services have been filled with cheaper, quicker therapy in the form of IAPT, a solution no more efficient than prescribing plasters to deep cuts rather than stitches.
Today’s majority Conservative result was feared by many who are concerned by further cuts; 12 billion to the welfare system (The Independent). Not to mention the loss of parts of the NHS to privatisation, and further cuts to vital services, all thanks to the misguided ‘trickle-down effect view’, whereby aiding the richest will trickle down into helping those in poverty, without having to actually put money into helping the poor directly. But let’s not panic yet, because the Tory’s have made promises, and I’m yet to hear a politician who has lied. The National Autism Society (NAS) reviewed the Conservative Manifesto with relation to their policies for supporting autistic individuals in work and also improving access to health and social care, and found some specific intentions to improve this area.
In the manifesto the Conservatives have said they will aim to ‘halve the disability employment gap’, and they will do this by ‘transform(ing) policy, practice and public attitudes’. This seems quite airy fairy but the NAS has promised to follow it up upon their victory. This year has already seen some of the world’s biggest companies, such as Microsoft, promising to hire more autistic individuals with specific skills, and bids to match up creative skills with jobs in the autistic community.
Next on the agenda was the NHS cuts, with a promise to invest an ‘additional 8 billion above inflation to fund the NHS England’s action plan for the next 5 years’. This translates to improvements to mental health services, with shorter waiting times promised and thus improvements to autism diagnoses as well. With the right conversations being had between the government and autism advocators, there is some hope of real improvement.
A year ago in my city we have had a new centre opened specialising in supporting individuals with autism. Unfortunately, it is left rather empty, apart from diagnoses coming through the door and the very occasional support group, mostly for children, it is redundant. If the new government does what they say, then we should see centres like this filled with therapeutic sessions and autistic adults also getting the support they need.
But it’s not just the Conservatives who can make this happen, we have to too. By telling people what we need, and campaigning for better welfare and support. Campaigns such as the NAS I’mOne General Election Campaign, and charities like the Ambitious About Autism have great ways to get involved and help bring about change.
I will leave you with a statement, which although is more factual that proactive, its awareness still fills me with hope: David Cameron: “A third of adults with autism have suffered severe mental health problems because they lack the right support”
ESSENTIAL Further Reading:
For a more detailed interview with David Cameron on Autism please read this:
Ambitious About Autism Campaigns