Autism employment gap: Government review

Some people we support who are autistic are in paid or voluntary employment. We look at what this review says and how it could help more people thrive at work.

A new government review of autism employment is seeking to break down barriers faced by autistic people in the workplace.

It aims to significantly improve the autism employment rate over the next five years from its current figure of 30%. While not all working age autistic people will be able to work, research by the National Autistic Society found that the vast majority want to.

Commissioned by Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride, the Buckland Review of Autism Employment was led by Sir Robert Buckland KC. The review was launched on World Autism Day 2023. The resulting report, published in February, includes views of hundreds of organisations and autistic people.

Recommendations arising

Central to the report are 19 recommendations which Sir Robert believes ‘can produce a radical improvement of autistic employment rates and a radical transformation of autistic people’s lives’.

These recommendations reflect issues explored under five themes:

  • Three initiatives to raise awareness, reduce stigma and capitalise on productivity.
  • Five ways of supporting autistic people to begin or return to a career.
  • Five recruitment practices that appropriately support autistic applicants.
  • Four suggestions for supporting autistic people already in the workforce.
  • Two approaches to encourage and support career progression.

What do they say?

A few example recommendations are:

‘Work with larger national or multinational organisations to develop small pilots of good practice, developing processes and support mechanisms that enable autistic staff to be recruited and to succeed.’

‘Identify and promote cross-industry autism employment support groups, including opportunities for volunteering and work shadowing, that autistic jobseekers can join to build their knowledge of employment and their confidence.’  

‘Work with the Disability Confident Business Leaders Group and staff team to identify Disability Confident firms who have experience in successfully employing autistic people and achieving culture change. They can act as role models and guides for other Disability Confident organisations.’

‘Ensure careers advisers in schools, colleges, the National Careers Service in England and equivalents in devolved administrations all have a good understanding of autism, know how to support autistic customers appropriately and can provide appropriate advice to autistic people seeking a first job or a career change.’ 

Autism and employment statistics

Autism research charity Autistica supported the research. Autistica estimates that around 1 in 70 people is autistic, or about 1 million autistic people in the UK.

In 2022/2023 (latest available figures) 680,000 working age people in the UK reported autism as either a main or secondary long-term health condition. Neurodivergent people do not consistently identify as having a long-term health condition, so the true number is probably higher.

Our experts’ views

Co-production and Employment Partner, Stephen Brown, comments: “This review is a great step in the right direction. Autistic people have so much to offer the workforce. However, rigid hiring practices, complex employment pipelines and a lack of understanding from employers mean that it can be a struggle to get a foothold in the job market.

“By removing barriers, increasing support and fostering a change in culture, we will hopefully see an uptick in autistic people finding, and staying in, work. Eliminating the need for an EHC Plan* for those who would like to undertake a supported apprenticeship could be huge. Currently, obtaining an EHC Plan can be a lengthy process.

“For those over 25, increased availability in supported employment programmes could also mean great things.”

At Achieve together we employ many people we support on a part-time basis. Simon Tobin is a member of Campaign for Change and Unity, and is autistic. He remarks: “I’ve worked for Achieve together for over 10 years and I’ve always felt that I have been supported well. When I first started with the organisation, I had a lot of very intense support from my manager and team. It meant that I could progress and become more confident in my role.

“I feel very lucky in my workplace considering a lot of other people do not have a positive experience when trying to find or retain a job. This government review is very positive. However, it also makes me annoyed and sad that so many people don’t have the right support and sometimes even experience prejudice due to ignorance and lack of understanding.”

Next steps

People involved in the consultation broadly agreed about the best ways to address each of the issues. Several of these are aimed at changing employer behaviour. The review notes that many of these changes would benefit people with other types of neurodiversity and disability, and non-disabled people.

The report argues for the creation of a task group to oversee monitoring, adjustment and promotion. While some recommendations are already in progress, others are longer term. Many of the recommendations are structured as activities for a task group.

We, at Achieve together, support people to plan for important life changes and have produced some useful information such as “Employment opportunities guide” that outlines the paths to paid and voluntary employment. You can also find more other useful information and guides from our Resource Library page.

*An education funding for young people under the age of 25