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UK pledges £8 million to plug autism employment gap

The UK government has pledged £7.6m in funding to local authorities to help autistic adults get into work, after reaching its target for disabled people in work.

The funding, allocated by the Local Supported Employment initiative, will be distributed between 24 local councils across England and Wales, with the aim of helping more than 2,000 adults with autism and learning disabilities to enter the workforce.

The support will include assigning job coaches to carry out vocation profiling, engaging with employers and providing in-work support for further career development.

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The pledge comes after the government reached its target of bringing one million more disabled people in work five years ahead of schedule in May.

Tim Nicholls, head of influencing and research at the National Autistic Society, said that the government's initiative is a welcome step, even if it doesn't completely eradicate the employment gap for autistic people.

He told HR magazine: “We welcome this initiative towards better supporting autistic people into work. The autism employment gap is still far too wide, with Office for National Statistics data suggesting that just 29% of autistic people are in employment.

“Not all autistic people are able to work, but many are eager to find a job that reflects their talents and interests and have a huge amount to offer employers. A lack of personalised support is one of the many barriers autistic people face when job-seeking, and we hope today’s announcement helps to address this."

With many employers and employees admitting they lack an understanding of neurodivergent conditions, Nicholls stressed the importance of raising awareness and understanding of autism.

He added: “This initiative alone won’t close the autism employment gap, but it’s a step in the right direction. We must continue to improve support and employer understanding of autism. Government must also fully fund its national autism strategy so that autistic people can get the vital support they need to find and stay in work.”

The government implemented its national strategy for autistic children, young people and adults in 2021, which set out to to help local authorities and NHS organisations deliver support to autistic people across the UK.

The UK's first support programme specifically designed for neurodivergent workers launched in Scotland earlier this week.

Chloe Smith, minister for disabled people, health and work said: "Disabled people deserve the same opportunities to start, stay and succeed in employment as everyone else.

"We know that those with autism and learning disabilities can face particular barriers to employment. We hope to break down those barriers and use local networks to help more disabled people reach their full potential."