On 2 April 2023, the government launched a review designed to boost the employment prospects of individuals with autism led by Sir Robert Buckland KC MP (the Buckland Review). Passionate about the work he is undertaking in his new role, he said: “If we close the employment gap for autistic people, it will not just mean individual fulfilment but a significant boost to employment and productivity for our country”.
The goal of the Buckland Review, supported by the charity Autistica and the Department for Work and Pensions, is to spread opportunity, close the gap in employment and contribute to the growth of the economy.
There is a particularly low rate of employment of people with autism, with fewer than three in 10 employed. Tim Nicolls, Head of Influencing and Research at the National Autistic Society, noted that “the autism employment gap is still far too wide, with only 29% of autistic people in employment, compared to around half of all disabled people and 80% of non-disabled people”.
The Buckland Review aims to boost employment of people with autism and for the government to work with employers to help more autistic people realise their potential in the workplace. To achieve this, the Buckland Review will consider the following:
- how employers identify and better support autistic staff already in their workforce;
- what more could be done to prepare autistic people effectively for beginning or returning to a career; and
- working practices or initiatives to reduce stigma and improve the productivity of autistic employees.
It will focus on developing solutions that:
- will be acceptable to autistic people;
- will be effective at improving autistic people’s outcomes; and
- will be feasible for employers or public services to deliver.
Of what should employers be aware?
Later this year, the Buckland Review will make recommendations to the government. As the review progresses and recommendations are made, it may be useful for managers and HR personnel to conduct an internal review to identify any obstacles, which may exist inadvertently, to the employment and advancement of autistic people in their workplaces. Once these obstacles are identified, employers can explore what adjustments and initiatives would benefit autistic people – many of these initiatives may benefit a much wider group of people with other conditions.
Such measures could help autistic people feel comfortable to join and stay in the workplace and enable employers to reap the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce. Employers also need to remain cognisant that autism is likely to fall under the definition of a disability in the Equality Act 2010 and so should always be mindful of the law on disability discrimination and their obligation to make reasonable adjustments.