THE National Autistic Society is championing the cause of thousands of people with autism across Scotland who are currently living in a state of anxiety, waiting to find out if the UK Government’s proposals to reform Disability Living Allowance (DLA) will mean they lose their right to the benefit.
An estimated 50,000 people in Scotland have autism (a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people, affecting how they make sense of the world around them) and for many of them and their families DLA is a lifeline that covers the additional costs arising because of their autism. To find out how the proposed reforms may impact on the lives of those with autism the National Autistic Society compiled a report ‘Who Benfits’ based on information they received from over 250 people with autism and their families.
Dr Robert Moffat, national director of NAS Scotland, said: “Autism is a complex and hidden condition making it much harder to assess the impact of the disability on daily living.
“The proposed introduction of face-to-face assessments for all adult DLA claimants therefore increases the likelihood that the needs of those with autism will be misunderstood or overlooked.
“When coupled with Government plans to cut the projected spend on DLA by £1 billion over the next three years, we have substantial concerns this could lead to some of the most vulnerable losing out.”
The National Autistic Society points out that the current system for applying for DLA does not always work for people with autism but the Government’s new proposals are at risk of making the process worse, not better.
Steven Oliver, from Duns suffers from Asperger syndrome (a form of autism involving difficulties with understanding and processing language) and is one of those who could be affected by the changes.
Born in 1974, Steven was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome aged three and since his mother died ten years ago, he has lived alone arranging his own benefits and support. He has defied expectations in many ways, including learning to drive a manual car and for the past five years Steven has worked part-time as a school lollipop man (school crossing patrol).
Disability Living Allowance means Steven can attend his social group every Wednesday, sharing his experiences with other people with autism and enjoying activities and outings.
When Steven attended an earlier benefits assessment, an assessor incorrectly filled out a form and his benefits were stopped. Following an appeal and the involvement of his local MP, Steven was eventually awarded Income Support and the payments were backdated to the time when his benefits were stopped.
This caused significant stress and anxiety and Steven was relieved when he was granted lifelong DLA as he would no longer face the stressful assessment process or risk losing his benefits due to an assessment by someone who didn’t properly understand his needs.
But now Steven is concerned that the proposed changes to the DLA assessment could mean that he risks losing his benefits if people were unable to see the difficulties he has.
Day to day, his abilities can vary depending on circumstances - some days can go well, but others can be extremely difficult. Concerns about benefits and welfare reform make this even more stressful.
“I currently use my DLA to access community activities and groups and also to pay for certain elements of support,” said Steven.
“It is also used to get me out and about and to achieve my independence.
“If this support is taken away, this will be very detrimental to my overall health and well-being, and will mean that I will no longer be able to be independent.
“I am alarmed at the proposal to re-assess all existing DLA claimants from 2013 onwards, as my condition is not going to change and the Government seems to think that it will. This is causing me a great deal of stress and anxiety.”
Robert Moffat adds: “We know that the Government is under huge pressure to cut costs, however they risk creating a false economy, as the loss of crucial benefits leaves people struggling and needing greater levels of support in the longer term.”
To ensure they don’t fail the most vulnerable people in society, the NAS recommends:
·People shouldn’t have to go through the bureaucracy of a face-to-face assessment if they already have sufficient evidence about their autism from previous assessments
. People with autism experience a variety of difficulties with daily life. The Government must make sure that these are reflected in the new assessment.
· Assessors must be trained so that they understand autism and how to talk to someone with autism, and can make a fair assessment of that person’s needs
· The Government must not abolish the mobility component of DLA for people living in residential care.
For more information about autism and for help in your area, call the NAS Autism Helpline on: 0845 070 4004 10am-4pm, Monday to Friday, (local rates apply).