29,090 people have signed a petition calling on the Government to take decisive action to double the number of autistic people in work by 2020. The petition was delivered on 21 February to Penny Mordaunt MP, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, by Cheryl Gillan MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, and a number of autistic adults.

The Government has pledged to halve the disability employment gap by 2020. At the time of the Government’s recent Green Paper on work, health and disability, the disability employment rate was 48% while for non-disabled people it was 80%. Halving the gap therefore means increasing the disability employment rate to 64%. But the autism employment gap is even wider, with a recent National Autistic Society survey indicating that only 32% of autistic people are in some form of work – and just 16% in full time paid work.

The petition coincides with the end (last Friday) of the public consultation on Government proposals to improve the disability employment rate. The National Autistic Society says that autistic people can be a real asset to businesses and has warned the Government not to leave them behind.

More than 1 in 100 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum, including around 450,000 autistic people of working age. Being autistic means you see, hear and feel the world in a different, often more intense way from others. Autistic people often find social situations difficult, can struggle to process information quickly and may be highly sensitive to sound or light or smells.

This can make finding and staying in a job difficult. But the National Autistic Society says that many of these difficulties can be overcome when employers understand autism and make small adjustments to the interview process and workplace.

Cheryl Gillan, MP for Chesham and Amersham and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, said:

“I am proud to present this important petition to the Government.

“I’ve met so many talented autistic people who, despite their best efforts, feel locked out of work. With more understanding from employers and improved support, we can change this and they can make a huge contribution to our society and economy.

“I strongly urge the Government to remember this as they develop proposals to improve the disability employment rate. We need to give autistic people a chance.”

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said:

“Almost 30,000 people have sent the Government a powerful message, urging them to show leadership and close the autism employment gap once and for all – and to give autistic people the chances they deserve.

“A growing number of employers, like GCHQ and Microsoft, are actively looking to employ autistic people who can have strengths such as tenacity and thinking differently. But many businesses tell us they don’t know where to go for support and they’re worried about getting it wrong.

“The Government’s upcoming White Paper on improving the disability employment rate is an opportunity to open up the workplace for autistic people. They must listen to the voices of autistic people, including the 29,090 people who’ve signed our petition, and introduce autism-specific support to help autistic people to find and stay in work.

“Not all autistic people are able to work. But many are and are desperate to find a job which reflects their talent and interests. With a little understanding and small adjustments to the workplace, autistic adults can be a real asset to businesses across the UK.”

Arran Linton-Smith, 61, is a senior consultant in the construction industry and was one of the campaigners who delivered the petition to the Government.

Arran said:

“I’ve had a very bumpy career, holding a range of different jobs and struggling in a number of them.

“A turning point came five years years ago, when I was diagnosed as autistic. It took a while for me to accept the diagnosis but, when I did, all the problems I’d had in the workplace started making sense.

“I took the difficult decision to disclose this at work. To my surprise everyone was so understanding and people started to realise that my different way of seeing things was a huge asset − I was able to spot problems and come up with solutions that weren’t even being considered.

“While I’m now in a good position and feel respected I know that many autistic people aren’t so lucky. I feel I’ve got a duty to hold open the door to the next generation of autistic people, so I was proud to be involved in this campaign and to present this important petition to the Government.

“There’s a vast untapped pool of talented individuals out there who can help businesses and other employers become stronger and more competitive.”

For more information about the National Autistic Society, visit www.autism.org.uk.