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Disabled civil servants facing “discrimination, bullying and harassment”

(18 August 2011)

A leaked government report has revealed the “disturbing” levels of discrimination, bullying and harassment faced by disabled civil servants.

The report, obtained by Disability News Service, also reveals that many disabled civil servants – who are no longer eligible for support from the Access to Work (ATW) scheme – are facing a “real fight” to secure the workplace adjustments they need to do their job.

The report was prepared for the Civil Service Task Group on Disability earlier this year, but has never been published.

A survey of staff in 2009 found disabled civil servants were three times more likely than those who were not disabled to report experiencing bullying, harassment or discrimination, results that were echoed in last year’s survey.

The report says that evidence collected from emails sent from disabled staff members and a series of focus groups held across the UK paints “a disturbing picture of the day-to-day experience of colleagues with disabilities”.

One of the key issues raised is the failure to secure reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

Participants in the focus groups spoke of having a “real fight” to get any workplace adjustments, even if the cost was small and the potential impact was high.

“Significant numbers” of disabled civil servants had reported “consistent and repeated failures” in providing reasonable adjustments, with many of those failures due to “budget constraints”.

Government departments have not been able to use the Access to Work scheme to fund such adjustments since October 2006, and the leaked report says this has resulted in civil servants receiving a “second class service” compared with the private sector and the rest of the public sector.

One disabled civil servant had been on gardening leave for 18 months, waiting for a mouse costing less than £30 to be approved, tested and placed on their computer.

Mark Shrimpton, RADAR’s deputy chief executive, said: “This report makes for extremely worrying reading and confirms anecdotal evidence I have been hearing for some time.

“The removal of Access to Work from the Civil Service was always dangerous territory and now we have the evidence that reasonable adjustments are not being implemented as they should.

“This, together with the other reported concerns, amounts to discrimination through the back door.  This is unacceptable and exposes government departments to litigation.  The Civil Service needs to get its act together, and fast.”

The report also points to staff “constantly having to re-justify and re-prove their disability”, while mental health issues are “still not recognised and are still regarded as a taboo”.

In one focus group, half of those attending had been to an employment tribunal because of disability discrimination. All of them had secured damages.

The report points out that the average cost of an employment tribunal is £100,000, with the average damages award £27,000, while the average cost for a reasonable adjustment is just £300.

It says that examples of good practice across the Civil Service are “the exceptions to the rule”, while the “serious problems” faced by disabled civil servants need “urgent attention”.

Despite the serious concerns raised in the report, the Cabinet Office refused to comment because the document was leaked and not intended for publication.

News provided by John Pring at

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