Whitehall diversity reports: culture of the senior civil service a 'barrier' to disabled officials

Written by Matt Foster on 27 March 2015 in News

SCS requirement for 'supreme flexibility' in working is holding back disabled civil servants, one of three government-commissioned reports on diversity finds

The culture of the senior civil service is acting as a brake on the career ambitions of disabled officials, a government-commissioned report has concluded.

The report – one of three on civil service diversity published by the Cabinet Office on Thursday says that while many senior Whitehall leaders have shown a “clear and strong commitment” to diversity, civil servants with disabilities and long-term health conditions still face “substantial barriers” to promotion.

The study, conducted by charity Disability Rights UK, points out 8.8% of civil servants now declare a disability, up from 4.1% in 1998. But it says the figures are “less encouraging” in the senior civil service, where just 3.4% of officials declare themselves to be disabled.

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DRUK acknowledges that the civil service has taken “important” steps to accommodate staff with disabilities since a 2011 review into low levels of staff engagement, but warns that disabled officials still encounter a “benevolence barrier” because of the expectations of Whitehall’s top tier.

It says: “The senior civil service ‘norm’ is still widely perceived to involve supreme flexibility in terms of working hours and location, examplar communication skills and hyper-resilience physically and mentally: disabled civil servants feel that whatever their talents, skills or potential contribution, they are assumed not to be able to deal with the pressures and are therefore passed over for new responsibilities and promotions.”

The report says workplace adjustments to accommodate disabled staff are sometimes seen “as a privilege, not a necessity or a right”, and treated as a “cost as opposed to an investment”.

DRUK’s study draws on the findings of wider quantitative research into barriers facing under-represented communities – including LGBT officials and civil servants from BME backgrounds – published yesterday. That research found that 56% of disabled respondents said they had experienced “discrimination, bullying and harassment” at work in the last year.

Cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood, setting out the Cabinet Office’s response to the trio of reports at an event in London yesterday, branded that particular finding “chilling”.

“We are really going to have to focus in on what lies behind that terrible statistic,” he said.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude, who also spoke at yesterday's event, acknowledged the reports make for “uncomfortable reading". The civil service has already announced a “refresh” of its Talent Action Plan, vowing that a new cross-government team will oversee Whitehall’s diversity and inclusion agenda.

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Nick Hewitt (not verified)

Submitted on 31 March, 2015 - 14:35
The Civil Service will never truly reflect diversity unless geographic and economic diversity is embraced too. As it stands at the moment the London centric focus at senior grades (SCS / G6 / G7) favours those that are both willing and able to work in the capital. This something that is never taken into account when E&D is looked at.

Officer Dibble (not verified)

Submitted on 13 April, 2015 - 11:14
The need for complete willingness to work unreasonable hours holds back many people with young families as well as many people with disabilities. The SCS has taken on many of the worst characteristics of jobs in the City (without the financial rewards, of course). I was recruited as a fast-streamer ten years ago; the fast stream is meant to be the talent feed for the SCS, and I would very much like to return to the level of seniority I'd reached in the private sector before I defected to government work - but because I now have a family I am sticking to grade 6, and frankly I'm more likely to leave the civil service altogether than to apply for an SCS post.

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