Jobcentre Plus ‘must do more to promote equality’


The government’s welfare-to-work agency is not fully complying with its legal duties to promote equality, according to a new report by the equality watchdog.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) released its findings after a year-long review of how Jobcentre Plus and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have worked together to meet public sector equality duties on disability, gender and race.
The report, the first such formal assessment carried out by the EHRC, finds some examples of good practice on disability equality, particularly in the way the Pathways to Work scheme and the new employment and support allowance were introduced.
But the report contrasts how they promoted disability equality through Pathways to Work with less impressive efforts on race and gender equality.
The report says “considerable efforts” were made to consult widely on the introduction of the Pathways to Work scheme, which offers people on incapacity benefit work-focused interviews, health advice and “back to work” credits.
It says the DWP and Jobcentre Plus were also more focused on the disability equality duty than the gender and race duties when introducing the new employment and support allowance, the replacement for incapacity benefit.
But the report raises concerns that a move from written to verbal agreements with employers could make it harder to promote flexible working and reasonable adjustments on the local employment partnerships programme. The scheme aims to find jobs for disadvantaged groups such as disabled people and lone parents.
The report also concludes that Jobcentre Plus needs to focus more on promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people and encouraging their participation in public life.
And it says Jobcentre Plus needs to realise that meeting the disability equality duty and other duties “sometimes requires going beyond equal treatment” and going as far as considering legal positive action measures.
But it does conclude that many of the “areas of concern” are being addressed, although it warns other government agencies and public authorities to take note of its criticisms.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are pleased this report acknowledges the progress we have made to develop our diversity and equality practice over recent years, alongside examples of good practice.
“The commission recognises that Jobcentre Plus is already taking into account its recommendations, and we welcome this constructive approach.”
9 July 2009