A Bucks MP has called on the Home Office to improve help for adults and children living with autism who are also suffering from domestic abuse.

During a Commons statement by the safeguarding minister, Victoria Atkins, on domestic abuse and hidden harms, Chesham and Amersham MP Dame Cheryl Gillan said some of the people “suffering most adversely in this lockdown are adults and children with autism.”


Dame Cheryl, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on autism and introduced the landmark Autism Act 11 years ago, said: “Madam Deputy Speaker, you and I have both worked on this important policy area in the past, and I commend the minister on her statement and the added protections she is putting in place.

“However, evidence is now becoming available that some of the people who are suffering most adversely in this lockdown are adults and children with autism.

“So that more appropriate and better services can be offered to them to alleviate their suffering, what data are the Government collecting on individuals and families with an autistic member suffering from domestic abuse, and the hidden harms the minister has referred to, during this lockdown?

“If the answer is none, can this be remedied immediately? If that data is being collected, can it be published on a regular basis so that specialised support for this vulnerable group of adults and children can be improved?”

It comes after domestic abuse reports surged during the pandemic, with domestic violence charity Refuge said it saw an 80 per cent increase in calls to its helpline during the first national lockdown – a trend the government believes is continuing.

Ms Atkins replied to Mrs Gillan, saying no matter what health conditions and disabilities people are living with, “they should not be victims of these terrible crimes”.

She said: “My right hon. friend is absolutely right to raise the needs of people living with autism and other such conditions, as she always does when the opportunity presents itself.

“I hope that she welcomes the mental health reforms that the Government have announced this week, which will be a real step forward in us all understanding the differences between autism and Asperger’s, and the ways in which they are wrongly treated at this point in time under the historic legislation.

“I also hope that she is aware of the national strategy for disabled people, which the Prime Minister is absolutely committed to publishing.

“Only yesterday or the day before, in fact, I attended a meeting chaired by my hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson, to work out across Government how we can help people with disabilities, including those who live with autism.

“As to the specific points on data, sadly, there is much room for improvement when it comes to the collection of data in respect of victims.

“I will take away my right hon. friend’s specific question, because I am very clear in my mind as to how those health conditions can make a person more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and ensuring that disabled victims of domestic abuse are better looked after will be part of our work.

“I will draw upon her advice and wisdom in this respect, because we want to be clear that no matter what health conditions and disabilities people are living with, they should not be victims of these terrible crimes.”

Mrs Gillan said afterwards: “Individuals and families affected by autism face a challenging time during the pandemic, and it is reassuring to hear that the minister is making their welfare a priority.”