The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted flooding its under-fire Disability Confident scheme with hundreds of employers from the hugely-discredited disability employment programme it is replacing.
The revelation is yet another blow to the credibility of the newly-relaunched scheme.
Penny Mordaunt, the minister for disabled people, boasted earlier this month that more than 2,400 businesses had already signed up to Disability Confident.
But DWP has now admitted that all but about 100 of those 2,400 organisations have simply been transferred across from Two Ticks – the scheme that Disability Confident is replacing – with many of them not even having to fill in an application form.
Disability News Service (DNS) reported last week how new research had suggested that Disability Confident – which aims to encourage employers to take on disabled staff – was “trivially easy to abuse” and allowed organisations to describe themselves as “Disability Confident” even if they failed to comply with anti-discrimination laws.
The analysis, by disabled campaigner David Gillon, suggested that Disability Confident was little better than Two Ticks.
Research published in 2014 showed that less than one in six (15 per cent) organisations that displayed the Two Ticks symbol kept all five of its commitments, while almost one in five (18 per cent) carried out none of them.
DNS has also revealed that many of the organisations that have signed up to Disability Confident have troubling track records when it comes to their attitudes to disabled people, including outsourcing giants Capita and Maximus, and insurance giant Unum.
But until this week it was unclear how DWP had managed to to sign up so many employers to the scheme so soon after its official relaunch.
Now, following information received from a leading disabled people’s organisation, DNS can reveal that DWP has simply transferred across more than 2,000 members from Two Ticks onto the middle level of Disability Confident, without even asking them to assess their own suitability for the scheme.
Choices and Rights Disability Coalition was contacted by DWP this summer to ask if it was interested in signing-up to Disability Confident.
When it expressed interest, it received a follow-up email stating that, because Choices and Rights was already a Two Ticks employer, the DWP civil servant had “completed the Migration Form on your behalf”.
As a result, the email added, Choices and Rights would “automatically” receive accreditation at “Employer” level – the second of the three levels – for the next 12 months, without even needing to self-assess its own policies and performance.
Gillon said: “DWP were forced to replace Two Ticks because the scheme was thoroughly discredited by thousands of firms who displayed the logo but did nothing.
“Even DWP and its ministers admitted that this was the case.
“To take the thousands of Two Ticks employers and simply relabel them ‘Disability Confident Employers’, after admitting many of them are nothing of the sort, betrays the real object of Disability Confident as ‘perception management’ by DWP, rather than any intention to truly challenge the disability employment gap.”
He pointed out that an employer at Disability Confident Employer level is supposed to have committed to offering “accessible interviews, flexible assessments, spreading the word to suppliers and partner companies, supporting disabled staff, monitoring career progression and listening to feedback”.
But he said: “None of these are required by Two Ticks, and we know the reality was most Two Ticks employers carried out very few, if any, of their commitments.
“The victims here will be disabled recruits and employees who see the Disability Confident logo and presume a certain level of support that the companies being handed Disability Confident status for zero effort have not agreed to and may have no intention of providing.
“How can we be Disability Confident in that?”
A DWP spokeswoman denied that simply transferring organisations across from Two Ticks to Disability Confident had further undermined the scheme.
She said: “We know Two Ticks employers are already committed to supporting disabled people to get and keep jobs.
“So we’re offering them the opportunity to migrate onto the new scheme, coming in as a Level 2 Disability Confident Employer.
“This status will last for 12 months, during which time they will have the opportunity to do a full self-assessment and secure the status for a full two years.
“The Two Ticks scheme will continue until July 2017.
“So far, 2,311 Two Ticks employers have been transferred onto the new scheme but the process is still ongoing.”
She added later: “Two Ticks employers are contacted by their regional Disability Confident team for their district to inform them of the scheme and the migration process.
“It’s at the discretion of the district team whether they complete the Migration Form on the company’s behalf or they support the company to complete it themselves.”
Choices and Rights is also frustrated at the lengthy DWP delays to its attempts to progress through the scheme.
It wanted to take advantage of its experience and expertise in recruiting and employing disabled people to achieve level three – or Disability Confident Leader – status.
One of the ways to achieve level three status is for an employer to have its practices assessed by an existing Disability Confident Leader.
But when the coalition asked DWP on 16 September for details of such an organisation in its local region of Yorkshire and Humberside, it was told: “This is a most interesting question, and one which has been raised before.
“I can tell you that this matter is being looked at currently, so I have forwarded your email onto the team looking at this question.
“It may be that they could contact you, either by telephone or email, which I hope you will not object to them doing.”
After receiving no further contact, Choices and Rights emailed again, on 5 October, and this time was told: “I am sorry you have heard nothing from our team who could reply to your enquiry.
“I will get in touch with them again, raising your concern that no reply has yet been forthcoming.”
Seven weeks later, Choices and Rights had still had no further communication.
The DWP spokeswoman denied that the failure to contact Choices and Rights demonstrated a lack of interest or DWP incompetence.
She said: “We’ve received a high volume of enquiries since the introduction of the new scheme.
“We value engagement from all companies and endeavour to respond as quickly as possible.”
She confirmed that, following DNS’s questions, a member of the Disability Confident team had now contacted Choices and Rights.
Picture: David Cameron launching Disability Confident in 2013