Tuesday, 14 June 2011

During the Welfare Reform Bill's third reading we wanted to remind all MP's about our concerns and the concerns of our supporters.

We at ACT NOW (Autism Campaigners Together) and our 10,000 supporters have many concerns about the migration from Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance including the Work Capability Assessment. Concerns we and our supporters believe all MPs must be aware of.

The evidence given by Atos Professionals and Professor Harrington to the DWP Select Committee is one area we want to discuss:

Atos made it clear that the Work Capability Assessment is not looking at specified conditions, assessors are not looking at any diagnosis that a client may have, they are assessing their functionality. One of the Atos professionals at committee said:

‘We are training people in the art of interviewing people. We are not diagnosing conditions we are there to see the way in which a group of conditions impact on someone’s ability to function.’

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, the dictionary definition of pervasive is ‘all-encompassing’ ‘enveloping’ ‘invasive’ ‘persistent’ ‘omnipresent’ ‘insidious.’ Autism as a pervasive disorder therefore impacts on the functionality of the person with the condition. Autism is a unique condition which requires a great deal of specialist knowledge to enable any professional to accurately assess the impact that the condition is having on the person.
The Atos professional continued:

‘The key skills that we need to have are communication, comprehension, the ability to be able to evaluate perhaps a lack of cognitive function in someone with potentially an autistic spectrum disorder so the evaluation is not about the skills of someone’s diagnosis but the skills about being able to assess and reflect someone’s mental cognitive or behavioural function.’

Are we now to understand that all Atos assessors have been specifically trained to effectively communicate with adults with autism?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ template for autism and this extends to communicating with adults with autism. Autism impacts on both the receptive and expressive language of the person with the condition, although the degree of impairment will differ in every individual. If an adult is having problems processing questions that they are being asked they may ignore the person who is asking the questions, have an emotional outburst or even stand up and leave the room so that they can escape.

Unless the person conducting the interview has autism specific communication skills enabling them to effectively communicate with the adult they are interviewing the probability is that effective communication will not take place.

The Atos professional also commented on the usefulness of the mental health champions now in place. While addressing a question that was asked about autism they stated:

‘I think that you are right to say the mental health champions will be a support in that one of the things that I am keen to see is how as we evolve through the period of the mental health champions, and that they are used potentially in a more pro-active way with a desire to learn more and more in the terms of someone wanting to run past a specific case with them.’

There are huge concerns being raised by some of our leading professionals working with people with autism across the UK that mental health professionals generally receive very little, if any, training specifically wrapped around the mental health issues associated with autism. This was an area of concern that was flagged up with the Department of Health when they were collecting information before writing the Adults Autism Strategy. How can we be sure that the mental health champions have received autism specific training so that they are able to provide support for an assessor who needs to discuss a specific issue that they might have after assessing an adult with autism?

So often there is a lack of understanding, support, provision and services for adults with autism resulting in those adults suffering mental health problems. Without a good overall understanding of autism it will be impossible to assess. It is imperative that MPs understand that although Atos assessors are looking at the functionality of a person, autism is a complex condition that often takes several years to diagnose. Therefore the person who is making an assessment of functionality must possess a good knowledge of the condition.

We have numerous other concerns regarding the Welfare Reform Bill especially the migration from Employment Support Allowance and the Work Capability Assessment.

Here is a summary:

It must be recognised that anyone who has a Autistic Spectrum Condition has an impairment in communication.

The literature provided by Jobcentre Plus for adults with additional support and communication needs does not include anyone who has a diagnosis of autism therefore having a diagnosed communication impairment.

We have evidence that reasonable adjustments are not being made for some adults with autism. The failure to do so is impacting on the mental health of these adults.

The process of communicating with adults with autism is seriously flawed and no reasonable adjustments are being made to enable adults with autism to communicate effectively throughout the process.

No support in the form of an advocate or communicator is being offered at the first point of contact by JobCentre Plus.

The Work Capability Assessment descriptors do not reflect the complex nature of autism.

Adults with autism are being inappropriately subjected to an assessment using a method of assessment that does not allow the complexity of autism to be accurately assessed.

Parents and carers are not being allowed to help their adult children communicate during their assessment.

The proposed changes to the descriptors will have a detrimental impact on people with an autistic spectrum condition.

It must be recognised that many adults with autism have been failed throughout their childhood by both education and health impacting on their ability to seek and maintain employment.

Adults who have been cast adrift without provision and services since leaving Children’s Services will have no supportive evidence to produce if they are asked to provide supportive evidence.

Assessment Centers are not meeting the sensory needs of adults with autism.

The self directed distance learning autism training received by the Atos assessors is woefully inadequate. The module is wrapped around Learning Difficulties and Autism. Not everyone who has autism will have a learning disability but everyone will have impaired communication skills.

Adults with autism will only feel confident with the assessment process when the method of assessment reflects their complex, specific and individual needs.

The DWP does not inform adults about the emergency rate which can be accessed if adult finds themselves in an appeal situation which we believe is neglectful.

The national roll-out for the migration process is we believe premature.

The morality of the bill is in question as we have summarised above, as are the methods practised by Jobcentre Plus and Atos. Aside from the impact on the people accessing the welfare system there are those who care for them and the impact welfare reform will have on them. There are an estimated 6 million carers across the UK saving the economy billions in care costs. Those caring for an adult child with autism are telling us daily that they are literally terrified about the changes to IB and DLA and the impact it will have on their lives and the people they love and care for. They are also right now living with cuts at LA level whilst living in fear, isolation and often poverty with little or no respite or support.

We hope all MP's will consider the concerns of the autism community  when the Welfare Reform Bill is read in Parliament again this week.

Yours sincerely

ACT NOW (Autism Campaigners Together) 

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