Discrimination faced by disabled DWP staff leaps by half in four years

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The proportion of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff who say they have been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months has risen by about 50 per cent in just four years, Civil Service figures have revealed.

The annual Civil Service People Survey shows the number of DWP staff saying they had personally experienced disability discrimination at work in the past 12 months rose by 150 (more than 10 per cent), from 1,462 in 2017 to 1,612 in 2018.

And the proportion of all DWP staff reporting disability discrimination rose by about 12 per cent, from about 2.55 per cent of all employees in 2017 to about 2.85 per cent in the 2018 survey.

This was an increase of about 50 per cent since the 2014 survey, when 1.91 per cent of those responding to the survey said they had experienced disability discrimination at work in the previous year.

But the figures are even more striking when compared with the number of disabled staff employed by DWP.

The latest Civil Service figures, from November 2018, show that only 7.7 per cent of DWP employees declared that they were disabled.

This suggests, according to calculations by Disability News Service (DNS) – which DWP has failed to comment on – that more than a third of disabled DWP staff experienced disability discrimination at work in 2018.

The proportion of DWP employees who have experienced any kind of discrimination has also continued to increase in the last four years, from 11 per cent in 2014 to 14 per cent in 2018.

It is just the latest evidence of worsening levels of discrimination within the government department responsible for the much-criticised Disability Confident scheme and will further strain the scheme’s credibility.

DWP itself has been awarded the status of Disability Confident Leader, the highest of three levels within the scheme, which aims to work with employers to “challenge attitudes towards disability” and “ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations”.

Last week, DNS reported how DWP repeatedly failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people who were recruited to build bridges between jobcentres and the local community through its Community Partners scheme.

In November, the department admitted failing to keep track of how many complaints by staff through its internal grievance system were based on allegations of disability discrimination.

Earlier the same month, new research showed that the Employment Tribunal had dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against DWP by its own staff over a 20-month period.

And last summer, figures provided to the work and pensions select committee by Sarah Newton (pictured), the minister for disabled people, showed that nearly 7,000 employers that had signed up to Disability Confident had promised to provide just 4,500 new jobs for disabled people between them, an average of less than one per employer.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, declined to comment on the DWP discrimination figures this week.

But David Gillon, a prominent disabled critic of the Disability Confident scheme, said: “If DWP can’t even tackle a rapidly increasing disability discrimination problem, never mind resolve it, then how can they justify retaining their Disability Confident Leader status, and their leadership of the entire Disability Confident programme?”

He said that a total of 1,612 incidents of disability discrimination was more than six per working day.

He said: “A core responsibility of a Disability Confident Leader is being an example to others, and teaching lessons learned across the Disability Confident community.

“There is precisely zero evidence of DWP doing this, or even acknowledging that they have a problem, so the justification for their retaining Disability Confident Leader status appears absent.

“In fact, their failure to acknowledge the issue argues strongly for the removal of their Leader status.”

He said it was “particularly disturbing” that the number of incidents of disability discrimination reported “far exceeds” those in areas such as ethnicity and sexual orientation, which was “the reverse of the pattern seen for harassment in the general population from police and Crown Prosecution Service figures”.

He added: “This strongly suggests that the issue may be a cultural one related to views of disability within DWP or the Civil Service as a whole.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if Newton was concerned about the figures, why DWP thought the figures had risen so sharply over the last few years, and why it thought there had been another year-on-year increase in 2018.

She also refused to say if Newton thought the figures suggested complacency by ministers about discrimination, whether they suggested DWP was institutionally disablist, and whether DWP should still be able to call itself a Disability Confident Leader.

But she said in a statement: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring all colleagues, including those with disabilities or health conditions, get the support they need to thrive.

“The department has a duty of care to its colleagues and aims to lead by example as a Disability Confident employer, following best practice in recruiting, retaining and developing disabled staff.

“We take very seriously any reports of disability discrimination from colleagues, while taking active steps to promote equality.”

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