A Hornchurch youngster has spent his summer as an intern at the Mother of Parliaments, thanks to a pioneering scheme run by a local charity. Ben Huseyin, who is autistic, has spent two fortnight long spells in my Westminster office.
Ben's internship came as a result of efforts by the Sycamore Trust UK, a local charity that helps children and young people with autism. In 2017, the Trust launched their programme for assisting young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder into work. Entitled SPACE (Supporting People with Autism into Continued Employment) and backed by the Glyn Hopkin charitable foundation, SPACE began the process of preparing young adults with autism for work. Candidates are required to complete a programme of several weekly modules, each relating to a specific activity, such as preparing a CV, or presenting themselves for interview.
As part of his work experience, SPACE was able to secure a place with the Conservative MP for Henley, and Ben's time has come to an end this week as parliament enters its summer recess.
I explained, "Ben has seen the full range of what an MP does. For example, he's seen me speak in debates in the main chamber and he's also been to Prime Minister's Questions. He's also been to a number of select committees as well as plenty of work in the office."
Although initially nervous, Ben has really enjoyed his spell working in Westminster and has gained some wonderful experience of life in Westminster. He said, "I have really enjoyed the work here. I was a bit nervous at first because I was worried it might be a bit above me, but it wasn't as difficult as I thought and I have been able to cope."
My office also ensured that Ben had some dealings with my constituents. I said, "every week, we read through the local papers and write to people in the constituency who have achieved something. Ben has been doing that research and drafting those letters."
Young people and adults with ASD have a constant battle trying to find work and at present, only 16% of autistic adults are in paid employment, which is a constant battle for the Sycamore Trust. The biggest challenge is finding jobs for a very capable group of people, as SPACE Project manager Nikki Murphy explained, "work experience and internships are great but these young people are capable of more. They are by nature very organised and polite and Ben is an example of that. He can travel anywhere, he is always on time and he is ready for work"
I echoed those remarks. I said, "it's been an enormous pleasure having Ben with us and I hope by having him here we've been able to show that it is perfectly possible to increase the number of people with ASD into employment."