The FINANCIAL — Autism costs the UK more than heart disease, cancer and stroke combined, according to London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
A new study led by the LSE estimates that autism costs the country at least £32 billion per year in treatment, lost earnings, care and support for children and adults with autism.
More than 600,000 people in the UK have autism, a condition associated with poor social and communication skills and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour. A quarter of people with autism are unable to talk, and 85% do not work full time, according to LSE.
The new research, published on June 9 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, has prompted health economists, families and charities to call again for increased investment in research for autism.
Professor Martin Knapp from LSE said that between 40 and 60 per cent of people with autism spectrum disorders also have intellectual disabilities, costing around £1.5 million over a lifetime, adding to the economic and social impact.
“What these figures show is a clear need for more effective interventions to treat autism, ideally in early life, making the best use of scarce resources,” Professor Knapp said. “New government policies are also needed to address the enormous impact on families,” he added.
“We care about the human stories behind these numbers. Autism is life long and can make independent living and employment hugely challenging. This is part of why it has a greater economic impact than other conditions,” said Christine Swabey, CEO of Autistica, the UK’s leading autism research charity.
“There is an unacceptable imbalance between the high cost of autism and the amount we spend each year on researching how to fundamentally change the outlook for people,” Ms Swabey said.
“We know that progress is possible. The right research would provide early interventions, better mental health, and more independence. But right now we spend just £180 on research for every £1million we spend on care,” she said.
The economic impacts of autism include expenditure on hospital services, home health care, special education facilities and respite care, as well as lost earnings for both people with autism and their parents, according to LSE.
“The cost figures show that autism affects all of us in society, every day, regardless of whether or not we have a family member or friend with autism. So we all need to play a part in making things better. More research funding would mean that we could conduct studies to transform lives,” Autism researcher Professor Declan Murphy, from the Institute of Psychiatry, said.
In a recent survey by Autistica, 90% of parents and 89% of adults with autism said that there was a need for greater scientific understanding of autism. One father said: “We should be making science work harder to make life more bearable.” A woman, who was diagnosed with autism aged 50, said: “I look for interventions, but there do not seem to be interventions for people my age.”