The passing of the Autism Bill into law today, whilst undoubtedly a positive development, is not the “great leap forward” that it has been characterised as being by many (for instance by the National Autistic Society).
Whilst ARM UK recognises that it represents a significant acknowledgement by the government that autistic people have a wide variety of needs that are currently unmet by the statutory sector, it is nonetheless only the first step in an ongoing process.
ARM UK laments the lack of meaningful involvement of autistic people in that process.
The Act now provides a statutory obligation for the proposed Adults with Autism Strategy on which the Department of Health has been taking the lead in producing since this time last year.
Under the Act the obligation is now to publish a Strategy by April 2010; the Department of Health has undertaken to publish a strategy by December 2009.
It remains to be seen what that Strategy might look like. The early indicators are not particularly encouraging.
The Act also places a legal obligation upon the Secretary of State to produce guidance on the implementation of the Strategy.
ARM UK notes that the government has patently failed to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN Disability Convention) which was ratified by the UK on June 8th this year.
Section 4.3 of the Convention states;
“In the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the present Convention, and in other decision-making processes concerning issues relating to persons with disabilities, States Parties shall closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organisations”.
No such involvement has taken place in regard to the drafting of this Act. There has been no significant involvement of either autism-specific user-led organisations (ULOs) or pan-disability ULOs.
ARM UK will be seeking to ensure that meaningful involvement of autistic people and their representative organisations takes place during the final drafting of the Autism Strategy and the drafting of the Section 7 Guidance which will underpin it and which will underpin any future re-drafting of the Strategy.
ARM UK argues that it is vital that the Strategy includes the establishment of structures and mechanisms which will enable autistic people and their representative organisations to play a full and meaningful role in the implementation of the Strategy at all levels including local, regional and national.
ARM UK advocates the establishment of Autism Partnership Boards (modelled on the Learning Disability Partnership Boards (LDPBs)) as one such mechanism of involvement.
Autism Partnership Boards must be established in all local authority areas. These Partnership Boards will be responsible for those elements of government proposals which relate to services for autistic adults.