Robert's Weekly Article - 5 April 2016

As this year’s World Autism Awareness Week takes place from Saturday 2 April to Friday 8 April 2016, I continue to take a strong interest in autism provision in Swindon and know many families who, like my own, are dealing with autism and what it means. The National Autistic Society estimates that over 1 in 100 people in the United Kingdom alone have autism and I believe that it is vital that we continue to campaign to raise awareness of the condition. 

During my time as an MP, I have campaigned for the rights of people with autism and served as Chair on an All- Party Parliamentary Group on Autism. The aim of the group is to raise awareness of autism in parliament, and to campaign and lobby for increased awareness and improved support for people with autism and their carers

When I was the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, I established a SEND Commission that aims to improve the experiences and prospects for young people with SEND. This involved taking autistic and SEN concerns straight to the government by providing MPs and House of Lords Peers with evidence and arguments in favour of better support for SEND and autism; a chance these young people would otherwise not have had.  I also introduced a ten-minute Bill to Parliament calling on the government to improve access to health and social care services for people with autism spectrum disorders.

Locally, I helped to establish a SEND Network for parents, secured autism-friendly film screenings and campaigned to improve health, education and social care services for local children, and I have worked very closely with charities like Ambitious about Autism and the National Autistic Society.

Last year, almost 5,000 people took part in the first ever World Autism Awareness Week and raised over £235,395 to help autistic people and their families across the UK. This year, The National Autistic Society hopes to raise even more as well as raising awareness about autism, so that all autistic people are understood, appreciated and accepted. You can find out more about World Autism Awareness Week and how to take part by visiting the National Autistic Society Website

As mentioned in my previous columns, a key priority of mine has always been to take the lowest paid workers out of income tax and as the new tax year begins, I am pleased that many of my constituents will see an increase in their pay packet as the tax free personal allowance rises. From this month, it will increase to £11,000 and from April 2017 it will increase again to £11,500 meaning that those on a low income will now pay no tax whatsoever. 

I am delighted the Chancellor has also been able to commit to providing such significant support for those on low incomes. A new National Living Wage has now come into effect, meaning that if you are over 25 you will earn a minimum of £7.20 an hour. 

2016 is a very important celebration for our town as we mark the anniversary of the birth of Swindon New Town 175 years ago. It is encouraging to see so many local businesses, both large and small getting behind Swindon 175 and giving the town the opportunity to celebrate its successes. Celebrations are well underway and many local people have been enjoying a whole host of events taking place. Crowds of people gathered at Steam Railway Museum on Easter Saturday where the sound of Swindon was again heard across the town. Replica hooters from the old railway works were sounded to mark the exact moment the works closed down, 30 years ago. This month also sees a Swindon Then and Now Special Photographic Exhibition being held at STEAM, as well as the Swindon Fringe Festival, which will run for ten days and will feature various acts from comedy to plays to music gigs. 

It is fantastic to see so many talented local people taking part in the events that have been organised, as well as seeing how Swindon’s 175th birthday celebration are bringing people in the town together.