The Autism Bill passed its final stage in the House of Lords today to become England’s first ever disability-specific law. The National Autistic Society (NAS) heralded the new law as ‘groundbreaking’ and said health and social care services could now face legal action if they failed to provide support for people with the condition, which affects over half a million people in the UK. The Autism Bill started out as a Private Members’ Bill drafted by the NAS on behalf of a coalition of autism charities and was championed through Parliament by Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan. It has had support from all parties.
Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said:
“Thousands of adults with autism told us they were experiencing serious mental health difficulties due to a lack of support. After a year of lobbying, this is the watershed moment they have been waiting for – this law could literally transform lives. It will add serious weight to the forthcoming adult autism strategy so now we’ll be keeping the pressure up on Government to make sure they get it right and deliver lasting change for people with this serious, lifelong and disabling condition.”
“I’d like to thank everyone for their support. It is extremely rare that a Private Members’ Bill goes on to become law, so this is a triumph for people with autism and their families. It’s a real testament to the overwhelming level of parliamentary support for this chronically excluded group. I hope it will make the crucial difference in their lives that people with autism need and deserve. We’d like to thank Cheryl Gillan MP and the thousands of autism campaigners, MPs and peers for their support – together we have made legal history.”
Once it receives Royal Assent the Bill will officially become the Autism Act. Under the new law the Government’s forthcoming adult autism strategy will be legally enforceable and must be published within the next six months. New responsibilities the NHS and local authorities will be expected to fulfil will include providing diagnostic services for adults with autism and better training for health and social care staff.
The NAS is also calling for the strategy to tackle the woeful number of people with autism in employment. New research for the charity’s Don’t Write Me Off campaign, launched last week, found that a third of people with autism – that’s over 100,000 – currently live without a job and worryingly without benefits.
The Autism Act was backed by
- The National Autistic Society,
- Wirral Autistic Society,
- Autism Research Centre,
- Hampshire Autistic Society,
- Staffordshire Adults Autistic Society,
- Research Autism,
- Autism Anglia,
- The Wessex Autistic Society,
- Autism Education Trust,
- Autism Speaks,
- Autism West Midlands,
- Autism in Mind,
- Autism Initiatives,
- Sussex Autistic Community Trust
- Tyne and Wear Autistic Society.
I hope everyone will join with me in congratulating the NAS and their partner organizations and all their supporters who have campaigned and lobbied to make this possible.