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Autism costs the UK more than £27 billion a year

The care and support of individuals with autism is costing the UK over £27 billion a year finds new research. Of this, £2.7 billion goes towards supporting children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), with £25 billion allocated to the care of adults.

ASDs are now known to be more common than was previously estimated, with an estimated 116 in every 10,000 children aged nine to 10 years having an ASD compared to an estimated 20 in every 10,000 less than two decades ago. The report, by academics from the London School of Economics and Political Science and King's College London, shows how care costs are spread between age groups and between those with and without intellectual disability.

With only a minority of individuals with autism and intellectual disability achieving independence, it also examines lost productivity. The findings allow for a more detailed review of how best to allocate resources to support individuals with autism.

Professor Martin Knapp and Dr Jennifer Beecham of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Renee Romeo, King's College London, examined the prevalence of ASDs, the levels of intellectual disability, places of residence for individuals with autism, service use, lost productivity and unit costs. Cost estimates were based on estimates for 539,766 people with ASD in the UK: 432,750 adults aged 18 or over and 107,016 children and adolescents.

The research found that £27 billion a year goes towards supporting individuals with autism. The lifetime cost of someone with ASD and intellectual disability is estimated at approximately £1.23 million. For someone with ASD without intellectual disability this is approximately £0.80 million.

£2.7 billion was attributable to care for children. The data showed that across all ages and levels of disability, 95 percent of the total national cost for children was accounted for by services funded by the state, and 5 percent by family expenses.  

For adults, these annual cost leaps to £25 billion. Almost two-thirds of this total (£17 billion) was accounted for by the costs of supporting intellectually disabled adults (including lost employment costs). 59% of the total was attributable to publicly funded services, 36 percent to lost employment for the individual with ASD, and the remaining 5 percent to family expenses. Benefit payments amounted to a relatively small sum in comparison for both children and adults.

The researchers also examined the opportunity costs of lost productivity as a result of lost or disrupted employment for both individuals with ASD and their families. The report finds that annual opportunity cost of £19,785 for a non-intellectually disabled adult with ASD, and £22,383 for an adult with ASD who is intellectually disabled.

These findings have various implications, with the researchers suggesting that early intervention has been shown to alter patterns of behaviour and so might be one way of reducing the intensity of support needed in adult life. But the researchers also highlight that more research is needed to make informed cost-effective policy decisions.

Martin Knapp, professor of social policy at LSE and director of the School for Social Care Research, said 'The range of sectors on which autism has an impact shows that there is clearly a need to ensure coordinated action across different parts of government and society more generally. But there is also a need for a much better understanding of the cost and cost-effectiveness of various interventions and supports for children and adults to ensure that decision makers have a stronger evidence base when deciding how to allocate resources.'

The Economic cost of autism in the UK, by Professor Martin Knapp and Dr Jennifer Beecham of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Renee Romeo, Kings College London, is published in Autism journal this week.



Professor Martin Knapp, LSE, m.knapp@lse.ac.uk
LSE Press Office, 020 7955 7060, pressoffice@lse.ac.uk


School for Social Care Research
Professor Knapp is director of a new School for Social Care Research, launched this month (May). With a budget of £15 million over the next five years, the School will lead research in the field, all of it aimed at improving services to improve people's lives.

It is a collaboration between five universities, led by Professor Martin Knapp at LSE. The other universities involved are the University of Kent, King's College, London, Manchester University and the University of York. The school is funded by the Government's National Institute for Health Research. See: Dilemmas in social care to be tackled by new national research school

21 May 2009