Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey appears to have failed to sign up to her own department’s flagship disability employment scheme, despite employing staff herself in her role as an MP.
Coffey (pictured) has been in post since last September and has been an MP since 2010, but a DWP document appears to show that she has still not signed up to Disability Confident, which was launched in 2013, even though – like all MPs – she employs staff to assist with her parliamentary duties.
The discredited scheme aims to encourage employers to “think differently about disability and take action to improve how they recruit, retain and develop disabled people”.
Three of Coffey’s ministers – Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people; Mims Davies, the employment minister; and Guy Opperman, the minister for pensions – have signed up, according to the latest list published by the department on Tuesday (3 May).
In all, the latest database shows that nearly 70 MPs are members of Disability Confident, including many from opposition parties.
Last November, in a press release marking the third anniversary of Disability Confident, Coffey called on employers to “take a look at their record on disability employment and think about what they can do to help create a more equal Britain”.
But she appears to have failed to take her own advice.
The scheme has been heavily-criticised since its introduction in 2013.
Figures secured last year by Disability News Service through a freedom of information request showed that the 13,600 employers that had signed up to the scheme by 13 September 2019 had pledged to provide just 8,763 paid jobs for disabled people between them, an average of just 0.64 jobs per employer.
Members of the scheme include many large employers such as local authorities, government departments, manufacturers, national charities, banks and retailers, including the big four supermarkets, more than 100 NHS trusts, and high street banks.
But Coffey is not the only work and pensions secretary who appears to have failed to support the scheme.
Of all the Tory MPs to have held the post since Iain Duncan Smith launched the scheme in 2013, only two – Stephen Crabbe and Damian Green* – have signed up to Disability Confident, according to the DWP list.
Duncan Smith himself, Esther McVey, David Gauke, and Amber Rudd all appear to have snubbed it.
McVey’s apparent failure to sign up to Disability Confident is particularly embarrassing because she claims to have created the scheme herself – when she was minister for disabled people, under Duncan Smith – in 2013, and has repeatedly called on employers to sign up.
Gauke and Rudd are no longer MPs, but DNS contacted Coffey, Duncan Smith and McVey yesterday, and none of them had responded to questions by noon today (Thursday).
DNS also put questions to Will Quince, the current minister for welfare delivery, who has also failed to sign up to Disability Confident. He also had failed to comment by noon today.
The scheme has been criticised as “trivially easy to abuse” and allows employers to describe themselves as “disability confident” without being assessed on that claim, and without employing a single disabled person.
Three years ago, DWP declared itself a gold-standard employer of disabled people under the scheme – securing the status of “Disability Confident Leader” – just days before being found guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of the UN disability convention.
*Although Damian Green is not listed as a member of the scheme, he said this morning in an email that he had signed up and that he had a disabled member of staff
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