Autism costs UK more than big three killer conditions
Research funding is fraction of care bill
Autism research published in a leading international medical journal shows that autism costs the UK more than heart disease, cancer and stroke combined.
A new study led by the London School of Economics and Political Science (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 deficits in communication skills and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour. A quarter of people with autism are unable to talk, and 85 per cent do not work full time.
The new research, published on 9 June in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics, has prompted health economists, families and charities to call again for increased investment in research for autism.
Counting the cost
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.
Christine Swabey, CEO of UK autism research charity Autistica, said: “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.”
“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.”
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.
Autism researcher Professor Declan Murphy, from the Institute of Psychiatry, said: “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.”
In a recent survey by Autistica, 90 per cent of parents and 89 per cent 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.”
The JAMA Pediatrics paper was a joint UK/US study looking at the costs of autism spectrum disorders in both countries. It was co-authored by LSE Visiting Researcher Ariane Buescher, and David Mandell and Zuleyha Cidav from Philadelphia in the US.