The government’s “Two Ticks” scheme to recognise companies that encourage disabled people to apply for job vacancies is nothing more than an “empty shell” used as a public relations tool, according to new research.
The “positive about disability” symbol is run by Jobcentre Plus, but the research by academics at two business schools found that thousands of companies that used it were no better than those that did not.
In the wake of the research, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accepted that the Two Ticks scheme was in need of reform.
The research – led by Professor Kim Hoque, of Warwick Business School, and Nick Bacon, of London’s Cass Business School – found that just 15 per cent of organisations awarded the Two Ticks symbol kept to all five of its commitments, with 18 per cent of those signed up not fulfilling any of them.
And nearly two-fifths – 38 per cent – only kept one of the promises.
The Two Ticks symbol has been awarded to 8,387 organisations since its launch in 1990, and is used by nearly half of the top 200 FTSE companies.
Professor Hoque said: “We found there was no difference in the support and commitment to disabled workers between companies who had the Two Ticks symbol and those who did not have it.
“It suggests that the symbol may often comprise little more than an ’empty shell’, where employers display the two ticks for impression management purposes to take advantage of its potential reputational benefits rather than because of a genuine concern for disability issues.”
He said the research cast doubt on the government’s aim to move one million disabled benefit claimants into employment.
He said: “These plans are dependent upon employers being receptive to taking on disabled people in larger numbers, but our research has shown that the widespread adoption of the Two Ticks symbol is not indicative of this happening.”
The Two Ticks symbol is used by businesses across England, Scotland and Wales, and to qualify to use it, firms have to meet five pledges: on interviewing disabled applicants; on developing the careers of disabled employees; on striving to keep employees in post when they become disabled; on ensuring appropriate levels of disability awareness for all employees; and on reviewing these commitments every year.
The research surveyed trade union disability champions at 116 organisations, 82 of them in Two Tick workplaces, on how far their company adhered to the five commitments.
Professor Hoque said: “There is no regulatory pressure on firms to adhere to the two ticks commitments, it is done through employer goodwill and self-enforcement.”
He said the symbol would continue to lack impact unless the government introduced “a degree of regulation” to ensure compliance.
Peter Jackson, deputy chief executive of Breakthrough UK, a user-led organisation which provides employment support to disabled people, said that, despite the concerns raised about the representativeness of the sample, the research appeared to back Breakthrough’s view that the Two Ticks scheme was “inadequate and ineffective as a mechanism to improve equality in employment for disabled people” and was “simply not a reliable indicator of good employment practice or changing attitudes”.
He said: “We expressed our views on the inadequacies of the scheme very strongly in our response to the DWP employer survey which was undertaken last year.
“DWP accepts that negative attitudes and perceptions of disabled people amongst employers remain one of the principal barriers to equality and inclusion.”
George Selvanera, director of policy, services and communications for the Business Disability Forum, said the sample of businesses used in the research was not representative, as non-union workplaces made up 17 out of 20 private sector workplaces with more than 10 employees.
He said the research was “not conclusive” and that more work was needed.
Selvanera said BDF’s own disability standard gave a more accurate picture of how businesses engaged with disabled people, as it took a “whole-organisation perspective”.
Firms that meet the standard employ executive-level disability champions, and work with disability organisations and disabled candidates and staff to review and improve talent attraction, recruitment, retention, and other strategies and processes.
He said: “Two Ticks lacks teeth, rigour and comprehensiveness. Auditing processes are limited and commitments such as ‘make every effort when employees become disabled to make sure they stay in employment’ are hollow – this is a legal requirement anyway and would be more credible if businesses evidenced how they are supporting staff to remain in employment.”
A DWP spokesman said: “We are currently rolling out the biggest employer engagement programme this country has ever seen in boosting the confidence of businesses to hire disabled people through Disability Confident.
“We know that while the [Two Ticks] symbol has played an important role in recognising employers’ commitment to supporting disabled people, we acknowledge that it is outdated and could do more to offer committed employers better support.
“We are seeking to reform the accreditation to make it a more dynamic and effective system.”
The reforms are likely to include wider publicity, different levels of accreditation, a more “rigorous” assessment process, and improved information and guidance.
It could also give disabled employees an easy way to provide feedback to the government on their employer’s performance in meeting the Two Ticks commitments.
Jackson said: “We hope that DWP will involve disabled people and their organisations in framing reforms to the scheme.
“This is the surest way to improve its credibility and effectiveness as a driver for change and a means to promote and uphold disabled people’s employment rights.”
The research paper, Employer Disability Practice in Britain: Assessing the Impact of the Positive about Disabled People ‘Two Ticks’ Symbol, appears in the journal Work, Employment and Society.
11 June 2014