Updated: Jan 6, 2020
Brexit and the impact on the Autistic Community #Differentnotdisabled
As I write this blog, the UK government has agreed a Brexit deal with the European Union. What exactly this deal will look like if it is agreed and ratified by Parliament is anyone's guess. What I am certain of is that the referendum that took place on the 23rd of June 2016 will have serious ramifications for all in society for generations to come. Those that will be hardest hit unfortunately are likely to be people on the autistic spectrum such as myself.
To give some context around the autistic spectrum currently in the UK around 700,000 people are on the autistic spectrum. Of the 700,000 of those who have been officially diagnosed on the spectrum, 53% of people on the autistic spectrum are currently unemployed. The figures for people with Asperger's Syndrome (my condition) fare even worse, 68% of people with Asperger's Syndrome which is a form of high functioning autism are unemployed. These figures obtained from The National Autistic Society show how autistic people have been largely forgotten by employers and wider society and although efforts are being made to give opportunities to autistic people sadly enough is not being done. A recent study carried out by The National Autistic Society showed that 77% of people on the autistic spectrum would dearly love to be in some form of employment. The government has committed to achieving the figure of 65% of people with autism in employment by 2030.
However, Brexit and its socio-political and socio-economic consequences hang considerably over the United Kingdom and particularly its most vulnerable citizens. To quote the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis "And the weaker suffer what they must?" This show the perplexing paradox that exists in the United Kingdom as opportunities and hope are starting to be given to autistic people. Yet these look set to be cruelly and unfairly taken away from those on the autistic spectrum as a consequence of Brexit. According to economic analyst's at Bloomberg the UK economy could shrink by between 3.2% & 6.7% by 2030 depending on whether their is a soft Brexit, hard Brexit or a no deal with the European Union. In certain areas of the United Kingdom such as the West Midlands the economy could shrink by as much as 12% in the event of a no deal with the European Union.
These figures will significantly effect autistic people struggling to find employment and opportunities. Another consequence of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union would be the loss of money that the UK receives from Brussels in the form of the European Social Fund. This money is given to the United Kingdom every seven years for the UK government to give to local councils to spend on projects, initiatives and opportunities for local people. With the UK leaving the EU in March 2019 and the implementation phase set to end in 2020 this vital source of an estimated £7bn will be lost. The question has to be asked how does the state intend to make up this shortfall in the public purse to support autistic and other vulnerable people in British society. With the ending of the ESF in 2020 and the 'so-called EU divorce bill that the UK will have to pay Brussels for exiting the EU, which some estimates put between £40-80 billion. The only option available to the government will be to raise taxes and cut the welfare budget.
This could have horrendous consequences for those on the autistic spectrum claiming welfare benefits. To give a bit more context to my readers Autism per head in the UK is the most expensive disability supported by the state with an estimated £32 billion spent every year on health, welfare and academic support. Now if the UK government has to claw back up for argument's sake £40 billion from the black hole in the public purse as a consequence of leaving the EU then those on welfare benefits, particularly with autism are likely to be hardest hit. With autism being seen as a hidden disability this only can increase the chances of autistic people failing benefits assessments. The lucky ones will have family support, but many could be made homeless as a consequence.
In my summing up I would say to members of the government that you have a social and moral responsibility to ensure that vulnerable people particularly on the autistic spectrum are not left high and dry by the impact of your Brexit. Do not let Brexit have the unintended consequences that it could have. There is still time for a better more proportional route to be navigated.
Thank you for reading and please keep enjoying and reading my blogs.