One in four civil servants still faces discrimination at work, says watchdog


One in four disabled civil servants still feels discriminated against at work, four years after Disability News Service revealed “disturbing” levels of discrimination, bullying and harassment across the civil service.

Last year, the government published a new talent action plan that it hoped would lead to more disabled people achieving senior positions in the civil service.

But a new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) says that civil servants with long-term health conditions “feel less engaged and are more likely to feel discriminated against, bullied or harassed”, with 26 per cent saying they feel discriminated against, compared with 10 per cent of those with no long-term health condition.

The report says that some groups do not believe there is an “open and inclusive culture” in the civil service, while some people are leaving their jobs because they find the culture “exclusive”.

Four years ago, a leaked, unpublished government report obtained by Disability News Service revealed the “disturbing” levels of discrimination, bullying and harassment faced by disabled civil servants.

The NAO report also says that the proportion of disabled senior civil servants has not risen since 2010 and “continues to remain low”, at just five per cent.

The proportion of disabled people across all grades of the civil service has increased from eight per cent to nine per cent since 2010.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) carried out research on barriers to career progression for disabled people in the civil service, which was published by the coalition government in March.

That research found both examples of good practice and “long-standing barriers to progression”, including bullying and harassment.

Liz Sayce, co-author of DR UK’s report and the charity’s chief executive, said: “With at least 27,000 civil servants living with personal experience of disability, it is evidently important to create cultures and systems so they can work to their best and fulfil their potential.

“And with one in five of the wider public being disabled, more leaders in the civil service with lived experience will enhance policy and delivery that is effective for everyone.”

Government departments have not been able to use the Access to Work scheme to fund workplace adjustments since October 2006, and the leaked report in 2011 said this had resulted in civil servants receiving a “second class service” compared with the private sector and the rest of the public sector.

A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “If our civil service is to continue to be regarded as a world leader, it needs to draw on all talents across our communities.

“The slow progress in improving diversity suggests there is a lot more to be done. The civil service needs to urgently tackle these issues with new vigour and intensity.

“Today’s report reveals a serious underrepresentation of disabled people, ethnic minority staff and women at senior levels of the civil service.

“Unless more action is taken, it risks failing to draw on the full potential of the communities it seeks to serve.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “We have a world-class civil service which is much more diverse than in the past and more diverse than the majority of British employers,
but we know there is lots more work to do.

“We must become more representative of those we serve in order to truly govern for one nation and open up even more opportunities for people from all backgrounds to progress.

“We now have a diversity champion in every department who will hold our feet to the fire and help implement our talent action plan.”

Meanwhile, more than four-fifths of disabled teachers say they have faced discrimination at work.

The figures emerged from a conference organised by NASUWT, the UK’s largest teachers’ union.

Delegates to the union’s annual disabled teachers’ conference raised “serious concerns” about lack of support in the workplace, such as the failure to provide reasonable adjustments, and “discriminatory attitudes” from employers and colleagues.

An electronic poll of delegates found 81 per cent had been discriminated against while working as a teacher; and 61 per cent had experienced bullying, harassment or victimisation from senior school leaders.

More than half (55 per cent) said they had experienced problems when requesting reasonable adjustments in the workplace, while only one in five (21 per cent) said their school or college had taken “active steps to ensure equality” for disabled staff.

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