Disability History Month runs annually from 22 November to 22 December.
This year’s theme is ‘Music’ so it makes sense to pay tribute to the likes of Ian Dury, Israel Vibrations - all disabled after contracting Polio - Sinead O’Connor (Bi Polar), Andre Rieu (visual impairment), to name a few. Highlighting the successes of disabled artistes serves as a reminder of what people can achieve if we adopt the social model of disability as opposed to the medical model.
Disability Confident Scheme
DWP is a leader (the highest level possible) in the Disability Confident scheme and was recently a runner up for a national award underlining the good work that Sonia Bewley and the Diversity and Inclusion team has done. This initiative aims to challenge attitudes towards disability, encourage long-term behavioral change, make the business case for encouraging organisations to employ disabled people and ensure staff has the opportunities to realise potential. And to an extent DWP does this well with the guaranteed interview scheme and trying to install workplace adjustments where possible.
PCS has been working with the Diversity and Inclusion team to ensure that our disabled members are not further disadvantaged whilst at work. PCS welcomes the change in the departmental approach to attendance management with the policy now centered on the person rather than the process.
There is also an ambition to train a further 500 Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) across the department. PCS supports the DWP in this having been involved in ongoing consultation with how this is accredited and rolled out. This is an important initiative as figures show that 1 in 4 people will experience mental ill health in their lifetime – and many of these will be in work. Mental ill health is now the primary cause of annual working days lost in the DWP.
Despite some good or improved policies and the roll out of Mental Health First Aiders, under performance management disabled members are still more likely than non disabled staff to receive a developing box mark.
Disability is the only area of the Equality Act 2010 where an employer can take positive action in areas of recruitment i.e. the guaranteed interview scheme. However many fail to realise that this could include taking elements of specific jobs to create a role that a disabled member of staff could do. The DWP as a leader of Disability Confident must be held as an exemplar in how it treats disabled staff: it must be forward thinking in its aims to keeping disabled members in work including promoting job sharing where possible.
Workplace Adjustment delays
PCS reps are reporting increasing difficulties in securing workplace adjustments with Sodexo admitting that they will not even look at requests for 21 days due to backlogs. This is further compounded by some leaders being unaware that they can request equipment up to £1000 without authorisation leading to unnecessary delays. Staff are now having to take Disability and Health related leave (commonly known as gardening leave) or struggle on – often under duress - without vital equipment
A recent report from Disability News Service based on research from a former NHS consultant psychiatrist showed that of all government civil service departments the DWP faced more legal action on disability discrimination grounds than any other department leading her to state:
‘They (the DWP) are not handling their people properly….it implies so much bullying’.
Over a 20 month period 57 tribunal cases were lodged by staff against the employer. Although 30 of these were later withdrawn a leading lawyer stated that this was most likely to be because the plaintiff and respondent settled out of court and signed a non disclosure agreement.
PCS reps have proved vital in supporting members throughout the process and have had major victories securing large awards for members who were discriminated, bullied and harassed due to their disability.
This is particularly true in cases where the member had mental ill health. A judge found in one case that: the DWP failed to support the member of staff ‘in any meaningful way’.
The cases shows PCS can and does win. It shows our reps are confident in supporting members. If you know any staff with disabilities or long term health conditions who are not members, please encourage them to join our fighting, campaigning union.
PCS is also seeking advocates and welcome those from under-represented groups. Speak to a local office rep for further advice or email firstname.lastname@example.org.