Few disabled people appointed to public bodies


The government department that supports UK business failed to appoint a single disabled person to the board of a public body last year, despite making 100 appointments.
The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform – now replaced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – is just one of a number of departments that chose few if any disabled people to join public boardrooms in areas such as health, transport and education.
The figures emerged as the government launched an action plan to increase public appointments of disabled people, women and people from minority ethnic communities.
An online survey of people from England and Wales who have taken civic leadership courses run by the charity Common Purpose found disabled people were twice as likely to be unsuccessful in applying for a place on a national public body as non-disabled people.
Disabled people make up 14 per cent of the working age population, but only five per cent of appointments to the 1,200 boards of UK public bodies.
The action plan, headed by the Government Equalities Office and the Cabinet Office, aims to increase the proportion of new disabled appointees to 14 per cent by 2011.
Measures include: regular monitoring of the new targets; sharing of best practice between government departments; a media campaign; a mentoring scheme; and new research.
Tessa Jowell, a cabinet office minister, and Harriet Harman, the women and equality minister, said the under-representation of disabled people, women and ethnic minorities was “a travesty” and “simply unacceptable”.
Harman said: “Diversity brings fresh perspectives, new ideas and broader experience on which to draw and ensuring diverse groups play an active role in public life strengthens our democracy.”
Figures released alongside the action plan launch revealed that, at March 2008, only 12 of 1,443 people appointed (0.8 per cent) by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) were disabled. In the following year, none of 64 appointees chosen by DEFRA were disabled people.
The Department for Work and Pensions was the best performer, with 46 of its 165 appointees (27.8 per cent) disabled people at March 2008, and another four (out of 14) appointed (28.6 per cent) during 2008-09.
The disability network RADAR welcomed the action plan. It runs an empowerment project, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government, to increase disabled people’s participation in local and national decision-making.


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