As soon as I won the political lottery, being drawn first out of the private members’ ballot in December, I was inundated with numerous causes and issues, all worthy of support. But believing that a Private Members’ Bill should cover an area that would ordinarily be overlooked, it was the Autism Bill that really captured my attention. I was faced with devastating personal accounts, including this from the parent of an adult with autism:
“She has quite calmly said that when we die, she plans to kill herself because she knows she will be completely alone and unable to care for herself. She weeps on a daily basis because she is so scared of the future. There is nobody to help her manage her daily life, and more importantly, who will love her when we're gone?”
I consider it to be simply unacceptable that people affected by autism have to fight for the support that should be theirs by right. The failure of many local authorities to recognise the needs of the half a million children and adults with this serious, lifelong and disabling condition made it absolutely necessary to introduce autism legislation.
In response to the political pressure generated by the Autism Bill, the government has now announced a raft of new measures ahead of the second reading. When fully implemented, they could help to address the shocking lack of autism services which leaves people affected by the condition feeling isolated, ignored and often at breaking point. This breakthrough is a testament to the weight of support from my colleagues, including the sterling work already done in this field by my colleague Angela Browning MP, autism campaigners (not least the 6000 people who emailed their MP), The National Autistic Society and the 15 other autism charities who backed the bill.
Measures outlined by the government respond to demands made in the Autism Bill and should, when fully introduced, hold local authorities legally accountable if they fail to provide appropriate support for children and adults with autism. This includes improving information on the number of children and adults with autism; ensuring an effective transition from child to adult services and tackling the chronic lack of support from child to adult services.
Without the right support, autism can have a profound and sometimes devastating effect, not only on individuals affected by the condition but also on their families and carers. I will keep campaigning until the government delivers on it's pledges to fully support people affected by autism - and will be pressing the bill in parliament on the 27th February. The real test will lie in how the government implement this package of measures in the long term.
Cheryl Gillan is MP for Chesham and Amersham and Shadow Secretary of State for Wales