The minister for disabled people has pledged to carry out a “root and branch” review of the government’s Disability Confident employment scheme, following a decade of criticism from disabled campaigners.
Tom Pursglove, who was giving evidence to the work and pensions select committee (pictured), was told by one MP that the scheme was “very much focused on process rather than outcomes”.
The SNP’s David Linden said the committee had heard evidence during its inquiry into the government’s jobs programmes that employers signed up to Disability Confident do not necessarily provide a “better experience” for their disabled staff.
Linden said: “My own experience and that of a number of colleagues has been that people sign up for the Disability Confident employer scheme to get the badge and all that kind of thing, but it’s very much focused on process rather than outcomes.”
It is just the latest criticism of the scheme since its launch in July 2013, when disabled people were almost uniformly critical of the coalition government’s non-confrontational approach to employment discrimination and its “contradictory messages” at a time when it was responsible for “smear campaigns” against those on out-of-work disability benefits.
One prominent disabled critic of the scheme over the last decade, David Gillon, later said that the actions Disability Confident encouraged employers to take were “in many ways less than the provisions they are legally obliged to make under the Equality Act”.
In January this year, Disability News Service reported how neither Pursglove nor work and pensions secretary Mel Stride had themselves signed up to the scheme, even though as MPs they both employ staff.
The latest list of Disability Confident members shows that both have now joined the scheme.
Pursglove told MPs yesterday (Wednesday) that he believed Disability Confident had been successful in “getting a strong message out there about the huge benefits that exist around disability employment, the enormous wealth of knowledge and capability and experience that disabled people can bring to our workplaces”.
But he said the government now needed to “look at how we progress that journey further”.
He said he wanted employers that were already benefiting from employing disabled people to “go on and do more” and that he wanted to “try and deepen people’s commitment and involvement with the scheme”.
In its National Disability Strategy, published in July 2021 and later declared unlawful by the high court, the government said that it wanted to review Disability Confident to “ensure it remains up-to-date, credible and sufficiently challenging” and to “explore further ways of encouraging employers to progress through the scheme effectively”.
But Pursglove told the committee yesterday that this would now be a “root and branch” review to “look at what more we can do” and “see where we can go with Disability Confident” and ensure that the scheme “really does focus on outcomes”.
The much-criticised scheme aims to encourage employers to “think differently about disability and take action to improve how they recruit, retain and develop disabled people”.
But in November 2016, DWP was declared a Disability Confident “leader” – the highest of the scheme’s three levels – days before it was found guilty of grave and systematic violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In July 2020, a company that bragged of being a Disability Confident leader sacked more than 50 disabled staff when it fell into administration, and then hired mostly non-disabled agency staff to replace them.
And in October 2018, the government-funded British Council, which is responsible for promoting the UK’s culture and education abroad, asked an employment tribunal to allow it to dodge its Equality Act duty not to discriminate against disabled people, despite being a member of Disability Confident.
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