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Civil Service

My priorities as Civil Service Disability Champion

Philip Rutnam, Perm Secretary for the Department for Transport and Civil Service Disability Champion
Philip Rutnam, Perm Secretary for the Department for Transport and Civil Service Disability Champion

I’ve now been Disability Champion for nearly a year. It’s been daunting but also hugely exciting. I’ve met lots of fantastic people up and down the country, people I’d never have met otherwise. Great civil servants at all levels with disabilities of every kind – from stammers to Asperger’s, from mental health conditions to visual impairments and colleagues in wheelchairs.

Everywhere I’ve found the same tremendous commitment to public service that marks out our Civil Service – and a real excitement about what being more diverse and inclusive could mean for our people, our jobs, and our services.

I’ve also been thinking about my own priorities as champion – and talking to lots of colleagues, disabled and not. The temptation is to try to do everything, immediately. But I know that won’t work. Not least because if anyone is to have confidence in our ability to attract and retain disabled staff, we need to get the basics right.

Hold me to account

So this blog is about what I see as my personal priorities – and here they are, as outlined recently in a letter to Jeremy Heywood, John Manzoni and Rupert McNeil.

So, you can hold me to account for whether I deliver!

First, we need to improve the standard and consistency of workplace adjustments

Workplace adjustments are vital to making sure disabled colleagues can achieve their full potential. They need to be delivered quickly, simply and to high quality, for the whole range of disabilities. Colleagues and line managers need to know about them and where to go to get support.

If we don’t get this right we just won’t have credibility on everything else.

Second, I want to get really good at developing talent at all levels

Disabled staff are disproportionately in lower grades – but there are also some examples of disabled colleagues whose careers have thrived. I want to learn from what works, and do all we can to nurture and bring on talented employees, with mentoring, coaching and schemes like the Positive Action Pathway.

Third, I want to do more about mental health

Each year 1 in 4 adults will experience a mental health problem, so this is something that affects us all, directly or indirectly. I want the Civil Service to be just about the best employer in the country in the way that we put mental health on a par with physical health, and support our colleagues.

Fourth, I want to engage leaders in the Civil Service, at every level, so that they recognise their role is key

This means setting the right tone and behaviours; having powerful champions in departments; listening and acting on feedback; having strong employee networks; and, above all, creating a culture that includes and develops people.

Last, but not least

If we do all these things, we might achieve my final goal - halve the gap in engagement scores between disabled and non-disabled colleagues by 2020. That gap is around 10% and stubbornly high, so this is a very ambitious target. But I think we need something like this to drive real change.

As Civil Service Disability Champion I can only do so much. I work closely with disability champions across Government, but I need your help too. I need you to tell me your experiences, good and bad. Tell me what you think is important.  And let me know your priorities and ideas.

You can leave comments at the bottom of this blog, or you can email me and my team direct:

Follow Philip on Twitter: @PhilipRutnam.

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  1. Comment by Jonathan Nancekivell-Smith posted on

    Thanks Philip, I am learning fast about being one of your departmental disability champions, in my case as the Ministry of Defence. So I have asked my local disability network what they thought of your blog and here's what they said:

    • We should be really proud of the reasonable adjustment team; we are seeing more people helped and in faster resolution times.

    • There are some amazing role models of disabled staff and disability-aware leaders. However, the fact that these role models continue to stand out means that our mainstream leaders don’t all get this yet. It was only last week that our Permanent Secretary, Jon Thompson reminded all MoD staff (including staff with disabilities!) that they need to update their personnel records including their disability status.

    You make two really key points that chimed with MoD disability colleagues.
    • Firstly this really is the ‘Time to Talk’ about MENTAL HEALTH. It is the area of disability that we have most often neglected. We are sharing best practice with colleagues across Whitehall – but we know we need to do much more and this can’t just be conventional computer based training. I was reminded that not everyone sits at a desk in the MoD so there is a big role for leaders to ensure that they hold regular conversations in the business, especially where colleagues don’t regularly use email or undertake computer based learning.

    • The challenge around closing the ENGAGEMENT GAP for disabled staff is going to be tough. My MoD colleagues tell me probably the most significant element is not just how we ensure the effectiveness of the mid and end of year performance reporting process but how managers and disabled colleagues have the right conversations throughout the year – this is a particular issue now and for the next couple of months but is also something that requires our focus as we hold career conversations and set objectives for the coming year. We are going to need to work extra hard to avoid bias and discrimination. I know all of the departmental champions are alive to this issue.

    Jonathan Nancekivell-Smith
    Ministry of Defence Disability Champion

    • Replies to Jonathan Nancekivell-Smith>

      Comment by Jay posted on

      I and others at our Unit have been trying for years to find out who the MoD Disability Champion is, been kept told no idea, didn't even know they existed etc etc neither was i receiving evidence/information if the Mod Regioanl Disability Group still existed for Yorkshire and Humberside and the details of both; where they are located, names and their contact details.

      Reading this blog i saw your entry. please contact me and sign post me to my regional Disability Champion and group members. Thank you.

    • Replies to Jonathan Nancekivell-Smith>

      Comment by The Blog Team posted on

      Thanks Jay. Jonathan will be in touch via the Blog Team to respond to your query.

  2. Comment by Gail Hawker posted on

    I recently asked a leading human rights QC why he had just delivered a talk about the Equality Act but never mentioned the protected characteristic of disability once. He tellingly observed that the abolition of the Disability Rights Commission has been a disservice to disabled people. He also observed that, when he speaks to disabled people, they simply feel 'invisible'. It's tragic that very many disabled people are the most discriminated against in society, yet are also often least able to advocate for themselves for the very reason of their disability. I hold the Civil Service to account for its record on recruiting and retaining staff on the autism spectrum simply because that is my area of particular interest as the parent of an autistic child. If the Civil Service is to embrace those on the autism spectrum, it needs to get them through the door in the first place - only 15% of people on the autism spectrum are in full time employment. The vast majority suffer from mental health problems - not because autism is a mental health condition, but because of the way society treats people that it, quite frankly, cannot be bothered to try and understand. So I ask the Civil Service to be an exemplar employer of those with autism; adopt the TUC's recommendations for creating an autism-friendly workplace and put in place positive action to promote the interests of autistic people in the workplace. Don't stop at reasonable adjustments - design jobs that specifically play to autistic people's strengths - look at completely different ways of recruiting autistic people - be imaginative and pro-active - engage the National Autistic Society. Make an effort and make a difference - not only will improved employment opportunities for autistic people be vastly beneficial for those with autism, it will be hugely beneficial for the Civil Service to tap into the unique skills and attributes autistic people can offer. Train Managers and re-train them to understand the neurologically diverse amongst us. Copy and paste this link to see what happens when autistic people are unsupported in the Civil Service - and this is one of the very small minority of autistic people who managed to get a job in the first place:

    • Replies to Gail Hawker>

      Comment by Joanne Cresswell posted on

      Thank you for the link Gail, as a parent of an highly functioning autistic child I found it hugely moving.
      My Son just barely manages to hold down a job but for the last 5yrs he has refused to let friends or employers know about his condition and he is almost at breaking point, so I had a lightbulb moment reading it.
      Thankfully in the last couple of weeks he has finally agreed to seek professional support again. This article has given me a fresh viewpoint that he would have struggled to articulate but I think applies to him too.

  3. Comment by Hugh Neill posted on

    Interesting to hear that Charlotte. It should be a matter for great concern if the climate has become such that caring and competent line managers end up ill with stress/mental health problems, whilst sociopathic or incompetent ones are allowed to drive their staff towards illness. An organisation can only retreat to a bunker and delude itself it is winning the war for so long.

    • Replies to Hugh Neill>

      Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

      Hi Hugh. You would have thought so. There are so many flaws in the PDS /Appeals system that allow bullies and especially bullying line managers can hide behind. That is how they get away with it especially if one has "followed procedures". Well you can follow the recepie to make a cake but that's no good if the finished cake tastes horrible or is burnt in the oven!! So one can follow procedures all they like, but at the end of the day the fundamental issue of bullying remains.

      It is a serious issue and one that i would like DWP to tackle by the horns, because one day this will end in tradegdy for all concerned.

  4. Comment by Joanne Cresswell posted on

    I agree whole hearted with all of the comments; especially those around discrimination, bullying and harrassment because of disabilities as sadly this has also been my experience within DWP. The performance system is not adequately tailored to support and guide staff with disabilities and there is no support for staff when going through an an investigation after complaining about these issues!
    I requested data under the FOI Act around the amount of Management Investigation complaints upheld in the last 2yrs - in over 90% of cases the complainant is a lower grade than the subject of the complaint and approx. only 10% of these complaints are upheld by the Management Investigation Team!
    I would suggest that process needs more rigorous and robust guidelines!
    Going through the process affected my disability considerably and had I been aware that the process is very much weighted in favour of the higher grade I would have chosen to go straight to ACAS instead.
    I have emailed and tweeted Philip Rutnam more than once in the last year around these issues and have never received any acknowledgement.
    I have a so-called "hidden disability" and have had to change job role more than once due to the treatment I've received from managers.
    I could quite easily claim benefits and choose not to work but I want to as long as I am able to; it keeps my mind occupied and provides a good role model for my children besides contributing to keeping a roof over our heads.
    Fortunately I have moved teams and now have a more disability savvy manager but I really do think more guidance should be put in place to help support and retain disabled staff in the Civil Service.

  5. Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

    It is not just ignorance on the part of line managers. Quite frankly there are line managers who should not be line managers. Who have no idea of how to properly manage their staff and when feeling out of their depth they resort to shutting the person down, underhand bullying tactics and exploiting a fundamentally flawed and unfair PDS/appeals system. I do know what i am talking about as i have experienced this directly myself. The victim is never taken seriously. As long as so called procedures have seen to be followed the victim will be let down every time. Utterally appallying.

  6. Comment by Hugh Neill posted on

    I think employers need to reflect on how the pressures on line management, and the inexperience and/or unwillingness of line management in relation to employer responsibilities/best practice might be contributing to acquired disability, especially in relation to mental health. A growing mismatch between expectation (targets) and what is doable given headcount reduction, burgeoning demand, loss of corporate intelligence through voluntary exits etc, job insecurity is likely to breed managers that don't want to speak truth back unto power about the limitations on what is doable. Instead, they will be inclined only to evidence that they have delegated (cascaded) expection on delivery appropriately (generally to those working under them). The result will be felt at the lower grades and manifested as (long term/stress related) sickness absence, and the effect on organisational performance (not to mention the victims) will be deleterious. This is both unacceptable and bad for business, since people are ultimately what make or break it.

  7. Comment by Sam posted on

    Can you also focus on the bullying or harassment? Within my department HMRC 31% of staff survey respondents said they were bullied or harassed within the previous 12 months. As a subsequent survey of one business area showed the number of staff (disabled & non-disabled) who felt bullied was significantly greater than those that answered the question in the staff survey I would suggest this needs greater attention than it is currently getting

  8. Comment by Rossana posted on

    I have been affected with an illness called Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) since December 2011. It is rare; and because of this not many people have heard of it or know what its affects can be. To some people it is over with quickly and they suffer no after affects, but to others; like me for instance it can leave a person with a permanent disability. I was paralysed from the neck down and was in hospital for nine weeks. I have pain every day that ranges from moderate to severe, I have weakness in my arms and they need to be supported while I work, they ache a lot of the time. I get burning sensations mostly in my legs but they can be anywhere that make it very uncomfortable for me. I have pins and needles in my fingers, toes and feet that is there permanently. These are all caused by nerve damage. I suffer with fatigue and I get moments of poor concentration and forgetfulness. All of the above affect me on a daily basis and also affects the speed at which I do my work.
    GBS affects people differently, and this makes it difficult to say how each person is to be treated. It is something that I am still struggling to come to terms with. I am not the person I was though I strive to be that person again. My neurologist does not think I will have any more improvement.
    Although I have a lot of support from my colleagues, I do not feel that support reaches further up the chain of command and a lot of things have happened that have left me feeling stressed and very down. I am disheartened by some of the things that have happened during the past twelve months and for all that those in the upper tiers feel about raising awareness and breaking down barriers, I don't feel that this has worked for me.

  9. Comment by Deb Harding posted on

    Hi Philip; glad to see you are evaluating after a year in post. I'm coming up to 5 years in the civil service as someone with multiple disabilities. Consistent Access to physical but also non-physical workplace adjustments is vital - I need a mix and a lot of the time the most important ones seem really small like regular check-in messages with my line manager when I travel in work; it means everyone knows I'm safe travelling which is a big part of my role but is really simple to put in place if you have a good relationship with your management team. I also would love to see more disabled people in leadership roles; I'm a G7 and one of the more senior disabled person who openly talks about their disabilities in my department. It's important to me to be open about my disabilities; especially my mental health (I'm bipolar) and support others as I progress in the organisation and act as a role model for people in a similar position. It can be challenging at times and it's vital that there are champions at the highest levels in the service dedicated to change. Thanks for your work over the last year and look forward to hearing more about your progress against these priorities.

  10. Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

    Add to that list the aim to reduce disability related bullying and harrasement. I am sorry to say that is not being adequately tackled. I have experienced it myself in the past year, but the flawed and corrupt appeals system does nothing to address it. It does have a deep impact on you and in turn makes you ill. So much so that my GP signed me off with depression. And i agree with you about mental health issues. Up until now this has been met with lip service responses. A lot more needs to be done. Happy to discuss further offline. I was born with a number of sensory and physical disabilities, so i have lived with these issues and will continue to do so for the remainder of my days.