A company that tried to halve its disabled advisors’ pay; a religious order responsible for decades of abuse of disabled people; and a police force facing two discrimination inquiries… are just three of the employers that have described themselves as “disability confident”.
The trio are a sample of more than 2,400 organisations that have already signed up to the government’s newly-relaunched Disability Confident scheme, which aims to encourage employers to take on more disabled staff.
Under the new version of the scheme, which was launched formally on 2 November but had been in “a test and learn phase” since July, employers can apply for three levels: Disability Confident Committed, Disability Confident Employer and Disability Confident Leader.
Employers can reach the first two levels simply by assessing themselves on their recruitment of disabled people and how they support existing disabled employees, after which DWP will send them a badge and a certificate that they can use to promote their “disability confidence”.
It is only if they want to become a Disability Confident Leader that their self-assessment has to be “validated” by another organisation.
The scheme is now seen by the government as a key element in achieving its pledge to halve the disability employment gap – despite its lack of a target date – but it attracted just 40 mainstream private sector partners in three years after its launch by the prime minister in 2013.
As a result of that failure, exposed by Disability News Service (DNS), ministers decided to relaunch the scheme, and membership has now soared.
But an analysis by DNS has revealed that many of the organisations that have signed up – and declared themselves “disability confident” – have troubling track records when it comes to their attitudes to disabled people.
One of those to sign up is Northamptonshire police, which is currently conducting an internal review of how it deals with disabled people, after it had to refer two separate incidents involving young autistic men to the police watchdog.
Another is Remploy, the formerly government-owned disability employment business, now mostly owned by the scandal-hit US company Maximus, which revealed plans to halve the pay of service-users who take part in inspections of health and care facilities after it took over two of the Experts by Experience contracts earlier this year.
Maximus itself has also declared itself to be “disability confident”, despite being accused in the House of Commons earlier this year of falsifying the results of “fitness for work” assessments, and of “a disconcerting pattern of behaviour that indicates that the trade-off between cost-cutting and profit maximisation is being felt by very vulnerable people”.
Maximus also has a disturbing track record of discrimination, incompetence and fraud in the US.
Another of the Department for Work and Pensions’ much-criticised outsourcing contractors, Capita, has also signed up to Disability Confident, despite a string of reports from disabled people who say the company’s healthcare assessors have lied in reports written after face-to-face medical assessments.
In April, Capita faced calls for it to be stripped of its personal independence payment (PIP) assessment contract after revelations in a Dispatches documentary for Channel 4.
Undercover footage showed one assessor bragging that he sometimes completed his assessment reports before even meeting the claimants, and that he could usually “completely dismiss” what he was told by PIP claimants.
Also signing up to Disability Confident is the insurance giant Unum.
In September, a new book by disabled researcher Mo Stewart detailed Unum’s influence over successive UK governments, and how it led to the introduction of the “totally bogus” work capability assessment, which she says was designed to make it harder for sick and disabled people to claim out-of-work disability benefits.
She warns in her book, Cash Not Care, that Unum has been trying for years to undermine the social security system in order to boost the market for its own income protection policies.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has signed up to its own Disability Confident scheme, despite a Cabinet Office survey revealing earlier this year that the number of its disabled civil servants who had faced discrimination had risen by nearly a quarter in just a year.
More than 1,400 disabled civil servants who took part in the survey said they had been discriminated against in 2015, compared with 1,038 in 2014.
The University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) has also signed up to Disability Confident.
Last year, DNS revealed how UWTSD agreed to pay £20,000 in compensation for discriminating against a talented disabled photography student, after it built a library it knew was inaccessible in order to cut costs.
Possibly one of the most disturbing additions to the list of Disability Confident sign-ups is a charity run by the Brothers of Charity.
The Catholic order, which provides services to people with learning difficulties through a charity in the UK, has faced years of allegations of historic sexual abuse of disabled and non-disabled children and disabled adults in the Irish republic, which took place as recently as the 1990s but dates back to the 1960s, as well as allegations of more historic abuse by a least one brother in the UK.
The charity had refused to respond to requests for a comment by 11am today (Thursday).
Another addition to the Disability Confident membership list is an organisation called Boobylicious, which is apparently based in Huddersfield but does not appear to have an online identity.
A DWP spokeswoman said Boobylicious was “a small company (1-9 employees), in the customer service sector”.
But shortly after DNS asked the press office about Boobylicious, it disappeared from the list of Disability Confident members.
DNS has so far not been able to clarify what services it provides.
The DWP spokeswoman declined to explain why Boobylicious had disappeared from the list of Disability Confident sign-ups, and added: “We don’t comment on individual scheme members.”
Labour appears to be the only political party that has signed up so far, despite its failure to appoint a shadow minister for disabled people to challenge the government on issues such as disability employment.
The Conservative party – to which all DWP’s ministers belong, including the minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt – has so far failed to sign up to Disability Confident.
A Conservative party spokeswoman said: “We are in the process of signing up to the Disability Confident scheme.”
The DWP spokeswoman said it would be “inappropriate to comment on the DC status of individual organisations”.
So far, the only MP to have signed up is the Conservative MP and former education secretary Nicky Morgan.
When asked if the government was concerned about this, the DWP spokeswoman said: “We already have more than 2,400 employers signed up, we expect that number to grow rapidly.
“It would be inappropriate to comment on the DC status of individual organisations.”
Disabled activist David Gillon, who has been a leading critic of Disability Confident since its launch, said: “Disabled people were promised something better than Two Ticks [the government scheme replaced by Disability Confident]; instead we have been handed the booby prize.
“To see Disability Confident status being handed out to companies that see access as too expensive, that slashes the pay of disabled workers, and with a history of disability discrimination and outright abuse, should be shocking.
“But it’s simply more of what disabled people have come to expect from Disability Confident, and should have been entirely predictable to anyone with an understanding of why Two Ticks failed.
“In the end, we don’t need hundreds or even thousands of employers signing up to Disability Confident; closing the disability employment gap will need hundreds of thousands of employers to actually employ disabled people, not just talk about it.”
Linda Burnip, a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Background information about many of the companies who are now supposedly Disability Confident employers shows just how meaningless this latest effort on the part of the government to halve the disability employment gap really is.
“Whether these employers are Disability Confident or not, would any disabled person feel safe working for them? I suspect not.”
Asked whether DWP believed that all of the organisations that have signed up to the scheme were “disability confident”, the spokeswoman said: “Being Disability Confident is about being conscientious in wanting to do more to be a more inclusive employer and the scheme is about supporting them on that journey.”
She said DWP did not agree that the presence of organisations like Maximus, Remploy and Northamptonshire police showed that the scheme was too easy to sign up to.
She said: “The Disability Confident scheme is not about ‘testing’ companies, it is about encouraging them to realise the benefits of employing disabled people and to encourage them to share best practice.
“The new Disability Confident scheme was developed by a task group that included representatives of employers as well as representatives of disabled people, and included several members who are themselves disabled.
“This helped ensure a balance between a scheme that is accessible and straight-forward for employers to use – particularly smaller employers – whilst being rigorous and commanding the confidence of disabled people.”
In July, Mike Adams, the disabled chief executive of Purple (formerly ecdp) – and a member of the task group – said he would have liked to have seen the new version of the scheme “much stronger and more ambitious”.
As for its own status as “disability confident”, the DWP spokeswoman said: “In the last year we’ve greatly improved our efforts to be a more inclusive workforce – but we know there’s more work to do.
“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and have taken steps like requiring all managers to complete unconscious bias training to improve fairness and equality across our sites.
“Our disciplinary process is fair and transparent, with a third-party, independent decision-maker involved in the process for formal cases.”