In every sector of the UK economy, there are skills shortages and an ongoing battle for talent. Yet there is a pool of talent, willing to work, which often goes untapped. 

Only three in 10 autistic people are in employment across the UK, but three-quarters of unemployed autistic people report that they want to work. A litany of barriers reduce the chances of autistic people gaining and remaining in employment - starting in education, before they enter the job market, and present in the recruitment process, while also affecting their ability to remain in work when they do gain employment. 

There are substantial benefits to be gained for autistic people who do move into employment. This analysis estimates that, on average, an autistic person on state benefits who moves from unemployment to employment would be £9,200 a year better off. They are also likely to experience improvements in their wellbeing, as being in work is associated with higher satisfaction, better social relationships and more. Of course, for autistic people who do not receive benefits at all and have nothing to forgo, the gains would be even greater.

Charities and policymakers alike are working to support greater numbers of autistic people to access, remain and thrive in work. This helps to bridge the gap between the ambition of autistic people and their weak representation in the labour market. Sir Robert Buckland MP is leading a new Autism Employment Review to further identify the barriers faced by autistic people and provide recommendations to reduce them. Meanwhile, specialist charity Autistica has launched an Employment Plan with a goal of doubling the employment rate of autistic people by 2030. 

Were Autistica’s campaign to be successful, the financial benefits would be significant, not just to autistic people but to government and the taxpayer too. Expenditure on Universal Credit would be lower, and tax take from employers and new employees alike would be higher. If the employment rate were to double from levels seen in 2022-23, Pro Bono Economics (PBE) estimates that it would draw an additional 100,000 autistic people into employment. This could result in an estimated total economic benefit to society of £900 million-£1.5 billion for each year that this higher employment rate is sustained.

Employers too would benefit from being able to tap into this pool of talent, particularly if they were better at making the most of those talents. Autism is a spectrum condition and autistic people are hugely diverse, but many autistic people bring particular strengths to a workplace, such as an excellent ability to focus, diversity in thought, efficiency and loyalty. There are a growing number of employers looking to make the most of those strengths, as well as to be inclusive.

There is clear evidence from charities such as Autistica that some of the solutions are relatively simple and inexpensive. Autistic individuals have differing needs, and so require different reasonable adjustments to thrive at work – ranging from quiet spaces, to altered work schedules, and from different management styles, to screen filters. Altering recruitment processes to be more inclusive of neurodivergent people is another example of a small change that can make a big difference. The more substantial, systemic barriers, such as the education system and culture, will take longer to change.

But there is both a clear problem and clear benefits to be gained by taking these steps – big and small – to create workplaces which are welcoming to autistic people, and where everyone can thrive.

Read the full report