My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for securing this debate. The issue of social exclusion, especially affecting those with disabilities, is close to my heart. Autistic individuals are one of the most socially excluded groups in society. This is due to the complexity and lack of understanding of autistic spectrum disorders. For far too long, people with autism have been neglected by society. This statement is corroborated by the fact that those with autism often have bleak outcomes later in life. Studies have revealed that a large percentage of autistic people have stated that they find it difficult to make friends.
I am deeply saddened by the testimonies of those with autism; no group in society should be subjected to such helpless circumstances. We have a civic duty to foster greater relationships with autistic people. I should like to give kudos to the families and carers of those with autism, who have provided sufferers with the love and support that they so richly need and deserve. It is also important to offer them any assistance that they may require in fulfilling their highly commendable duties.
People with autism have often been misunderstood for exhibiting what may be perceived as peculiar behaviour. Unfortunately, some of those individuals may come into contact with the criminal justice system at some stage in their lives.
According to a survey conducted by the National Autistic Society, one-third of people with autism are not in receipt of benefits. That revelation is truly shocking, as it tells us that those at the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum are among those who are missing out on vital support and assistance. Poverty is a harbinger of social exclusion. Research reveals that only 15 per cent of adults with autism are in full-time employment. That figure reflects the stark reality that autistic adults are simply not getting the support that they need when seeking a job. All adults with autism who apply for employment and support allowance in future should be given adequate assistance when submitting their claims. I hope that we will address the failures of the benefits system correctly to award appropriate financial support to autistic applicants. Greater understanding and awareness of autism will inevitably lead to better strategic planning among individuals and organisations responsible for addressing the needs of autistic people.
Autism by its nature is a complex condition that requires a comprehensive and co-ordinated plan of action. We are all indeed pleased that there is cross-party consensus on the Autism Bill, which will no doubt herald a new era of heightened awareness regarding autism.
I conclude by stating that it is our responsibility as an inclusive society to do everything necessary to ensure that the discrimination and exclusion that pervade the lives of autistic individuals are eradicated. In order to achieve that, we must ensure that those individuals have access to the support and resources that they require to live happy and fulfilling lives.