Monday, 7 February 2011

ACT NOW Proposals to our Patron Jon Cruddas MP

Following our meeting at Portcullis House we have given a great deal of thought about not only the Work Capability Assessments and how they could be made autism friendly, but also how a default position for adults with autism, as well as any adult who has a lifelong complex disability, could be made possible.

The core group has, we believe, produced some proposals which would stop the Work Capability Assessment from placing adults with autism at a serious disadvantage. We have also produced some proposals which would be used to create a default setting for adults with autism who wanted to seek and gain employment without any fear of conditionality if their attempts to do so failed.
During the last seven days we have discussed our proposals with our Regional Co-ordinators and the 792 ACT NOW supporters who are active members on our Regional Groups. The response has been favourable and we have received no negative comments.
We believe that in its present format the WCA will place people with autism and other complex disabilities at a disadvantage. It is not always apparent that someone with autism has a disability because autism can be a hidden disability and the needs of the person with the condition can fluctuate on a daily basis depending on their environment and levels of anxiety.  It can be very difficult for someone who has not been specifically and specially trained in autistic spectrum conditions to effectively determine the impact that the disability has on the person with the condition in a relatively short assessment process.
We believe that a radical overhaul of the assessment process is urgently required. Tinkering with the descriptors to decide who should be eligible for Employment Support Allowance and what level of support they should get will not be enough to prevent adults with autism from being declared fit for work, when in fact they are anything but fit for work.
While the descriptors may better reflect the needs of people with autism and other disabilities, they will not provide the assessor with the overview and insight into the condition that the assessor should clearly have if they are to reach an informed decision that will impact on the life of the person whom they are assessing.
We believe that the Department for Work and Pensions needs to urgently expand its LIMA system (Atos Origin’s Logic Integrated Medical Assessment information technology software) to encompass lifelong conditions like Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy etc and produce a set of guidelines similar to the NICE Guidelines.  It is difficult to imagine how an assessment can be successful without the assessor being able to access information that will allow them to understand the condition that the person they are assessing.
Training on Autistic Spectrum Conditions should be mandatory for all ATOS assessors.  
At the moment there are only 15% of adults with autism in full time employment. This is opposed to 48% of adults with other disabilities being in full time employment.  While some adults with autism do want to work it must be recognised that for some adults with autism living an independent life without employment will be a positive outcome for that adult. Being able to live independently is something that should be a higher priority than employment for some adults with autism.
For this reason we believe that it is essential that there is a default position available to adults with autism (and others with similar disabilities) who try to seek and maintain employment and for whatever reason fail. Autism must be categorized as a high risk group, recognising that adults with this disability often find it difficult to seek and maintain employment.
Proposals for long term improvements to the system.
There is no reason why all of the assessments that an adult with autism may require (this could include community care and social care assessments) could not be carried out all at the same time under the supervision of a specialist body who is, importantly, not part of the DWP. These assessments could be carried out by a local Community Care Team; a similar idea has been suggested in relation to children with Special Educational Needs and how these are assessed. The outcome of the adult assessment would lead to a Disability Development Plan which would very importantly state the following
1. The person's disability and whether this was a statutory disability
2. How the disability impacts on them as an adult in relation to key areas such as well being, independence*, employability etc
3. What support they are entitled to both in terms of benefits and whilst at work in the form of reasonable adjustments and ongoing support.
4. Explore areas of employment that the adult with autism may be capable of doing, as well as what kind of reasonable adjustments and support would have to be put into place for that adult.
5. All of the medical needs of the adult would be listed. This is important as adults with autism often have co-morbidities and other disabilities in addition to their autism which impact on their autism and ability to function.
The Disability Development Plan could be reviewed for everyone after every 3 years.
There should be a mechanism to record significant changes with regards to disabilities and how they affect the relevant person. This may seem like a costly process but firstly it would be voluntary ( ie. if the disabled person did not want to apply). However if the disabled person wanted benefits or community care facilities we suggest it would have to be compulsory. It would be very beneficial to employers as it would give them more meaningful information about the disabled person.
Clearly the plan would have to be person centered and a great advantage over the existing system. We have no reason to believe that this way of assessing would not save money in the long run whilst ensuring that the disabled person was given the relevant support when needed.
* National Autistic Society Campaign ‘I Exist’ 2008 61% of adults with autism rely on their families for financial support with over 40% of adults with autism still living at home.
Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any queries.

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