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Civil Service

The Civil Service... Disability Confident and more

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

It has been a busy period recently for disability-related activity, and I wanted to update you on some important events.

Disability Confident

On 2 November, alongside Penny Mordaunt, Minister of State for Disabled People, Permanent Secretaries committed all Civil Service departments to the Government’s new Disability Confident Scheme. This is a significant step in ensuring that the Civil Service leads the way in creating a disability-inclusive culture where disabled colleagues can realise their full potential. And it supports our aim for the Civil Service to be the UK’s most inclusive employer.

The new scheme gives employers the tools to recruit, retain and develop disabled people. It also acts as a catalyst for continuous improvement by taking employers on a journey from Disability Committed (level 1) to Disability Confident Employer (level 2), progressing to Disability Confident Leader (level 3).

For disabled colleagues, this will mean a Civil Service that is more confident and capable in employing and retaining disabled people; that actively identifies and removes barriers; and provides opportunities for individuals to realise their full potential.

Penny Mordaunt, Minister of State for Disabled People (seated centre right) with Civil Service Permanent Secretaries, committing their departments to be Disability Confident
Penny Mordaunt, Minister of State for Disabled People (seated centre right) with Civil Service Permanent Secretaries, committing their departments to be Disability Confident

Most government departments, including my own, Transport, have signed up at level 2 and will now be focusing efforts on progressing quickly to level 3. I offer special congratulations to the National Crime Agency, which became the first Civil Service business area to achieve this.

Joint KPMG event

The Civil Service and KPMG have formed an exciting partnership to share disability knowledge, expertise and insight. Our joint aim is to improve the working experience of disabled colleagues. We will achieve this by tapping into our collective knowledge to remove disability inclusion barriers and develop innovative solutions.  

On 27 October I attended the first joint disability event. It included several insightful and inspiring presentations, followed by a group session to generate practical ideas on a raft of disability topics, from encouraging others to share their disability information, to equipping managers to be more disability confident.

It was great to see lots of networking and our own Civil Service Workplace Adjustment Service (CSWAS) and Civil Service Disability Inclusion Teams showcasing the work of the Civil Service to an external audience. The event ended with participants making individual pledges on how they will contribute to building disability inclusion, by “talking to colleagues about stammering”, for example.

Mental Health First-Aiders Workshop

Improving the support for colleagues with mental health concerns is one of my key disability priorities. So, I was delighted on 20 October to open the first cross-government workshop for Mental Health First-Aiders (MHFAs) or equivalent. I use the term ‘equivalent’ as some departments refer to Mental Health Advocates, Allies or Buddies. They all play a pivotal role in signposting colleagues to available support, encouraging people to talk about mental health and raising mental health awareness.

The aim of the event was to identify and share best practice in the Civil Service and beyond, explore the support that exists, and raise the profile and visibility of the role. Representatives of 24 government departments and agencies heard powerful presentations from external organisations including Accenture and Remploy. DWP shared their strategy for networking and upskilling MFHAs and CSEP on available support.

Innovative practices or ideas include the Listening Service, a confidential facility for Cabinet Office staff, run by colleagues trained in active listening, emotional support and signposting.

Feedback from the event is positive. Participants said it was particularly valuable to link up with an exemplar organisation (Accenture) in another sector to share ideas; and there was an appetite for further events and to develop a cross-government network of MHFAs.

Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI) Awards

On 3 November I attended the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI) Awards ceremony. The awards celebrate progress and recognise the success of private and public sector organisations making headway in increasing the inclusion of disabled professionals. I was particularly struck by a recurring refrain, from all RIDI Award winners, that most adjustments cost organisations nothing, are easy to implement, yet can make a huge difference. I was immensely proud that the Civil Service won the Extending the Reach Award for our innovative work-insight programme for young people with autism, and was shortlisted in the Disability Confident category. Many congratulations to everyone involved.

If you would like more information about any of these events, please contact me at

Finally, I will repeat a message I gave to fellow permanent secretaries at the Disability Confident event. As Civil Service Disability Champion I have met many inspirational disabled colleagues who are doing great things but are often stuck in relatively junior or middle management roles. This is an incredible waste of talent and chimes with a comment made by Penny Mordaunt at the RIDI Awards, that “disabled people are the most entrepreneurial people on earth".

We must continue to identify and remove barriers to disability inclusion and nurture talent. For the Civil Service to reach its full potential, all of our people must have the opportunity to reach theirs.

Follow Philip on Twitter: @PhilipRutnam.

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  1. Comment by Sue posted on

    The paragraph regarding the FIRST Mental Health First Aiders Workshop is eye opening.
    This should have happened YEARS ago. It should be mandatory in Management training. Many Managers who have staff with mental health disabilites have never undertaken any training with regard to managing such staff.
    I am now having to go through the ill health retirement process and struggling on ESA after being off sick with severe depression for over a year. I feel that there is no way back for me but I would hate for others to go through what I have.

    • Replies to Sue>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      Sue - I would agree that we need to do more to improve the support available to colleagues with mental health concerns, and have identified this as one of my disability priorities. Mental Health First Aiders or equivalent have a key role to play in achieving this. I am pleased that, through the workshop, they now have a cross-government forum to share best practice and raise issues. I am sorry to hear about your own mental health experiences and would encourage you to discuss this with your Departmental Mental Health First Aider or Disability Champion.

  2. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    This is a fantastic initiative. I have to say congratulations to the FCO Staff Associations ENABLE and the Wellbeing Network for the great work that they have done to increase awareness and understanding within the organisation.

    • Replies to Gavin Thomas>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      Gavin - Thanks for acknowledging the great work of FCO employee networks; Enable and Wellbeing. I share your view that both networks are doing a sterling job in raising awareness and understanding of disability issues.

  3. Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

    Hi Paul.

    I agree with you about Remploy. That was a disgraceful act of betrayal by the British Government for all disabled people.

    Regarding your own personal circumstances, i am also profoundly deaf but i do use the phone in the course of my working day. Have you tried applying for a Phonak Roger Pen. That will act as amplifier for when you are making and taking calls. It has been a boon for me. Worth making enquries about.

    • Replies to Charlotte Smith>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      Charlotte - Thank you for suggesting the Phonak Roger Pen as a possible solution for Paul to explore.

  4. Comment by Paul Milsom posted on

    How can they talk about this & yet at the same time get rid of Remploy? Seems very odd to me. I work for HMRC & I am profoundly deaf. I have a considerate manager who is trying to get me to be capable of telephone work. I have tried different equipment over the last 12 months but find that I still cannot hear on the phone clearly. I will keep persevering but the way it is going I will probably have to leave to claim benefits from the state/people at work taxes.

    • Replies to Paul Milsom>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      Paul - If the telephone equipment you have been provided with does not enable you to hear clearly on the phone, you should initially raise this with HMRC's Workplace Adjustment Team. The Central Workplace Adjustment Service offers a 'review' service, should you remain dissatisfied with the adjustment provided.

  5. Comment by Lesley Campbell posted on

    When I worked at Accenture, I was involved in the inception of the MHFA programme and delighted to hear how successful it has been since I left. Having recently joined the Civil Service, I'm excited to hear how we are looking to learn from exemplar programmes outside of Government. As a qualified MHFA, I was keen to know how I can continue to use these skills here in the Civil Service, but found that to get involved in my new department is likely to require re-training. I would definitely welcome a cross-government group on this to encourage people to be able to take their skills elsewhere.

    • Replies to Lesley Campbell>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      Lesley - You will be pleased to know that we invited Accenture to deliver a presentation at the recent cross-Government Mental Health First Aider workshop, to share their experiences of setting up their Mental Health Allies programme. The group has agreed to meet again and is planning to set up a cross-Government Mental Health First Aiders network. If you would like more information on the workshop, please email me at

  6. Comment by David Sangster posted on

    there is a creeping threat to this CS commitment arising from the aggressive government policy on its buildings and locations where the only aim seems to be how many people can we squeeze into each site - this has implications for diversity, well being, business efficiency and inclusion

    • Replies to David Sangster>

      Comment by Jon Evans posted on

      David Sangster makes an excellent point. Under HMRC's massive and on-going restructuring programme, the work is being relocated to just a few regional centres, with the consequent closure of offices across large swathes of the country. Many colleagues with disabilities (or caring responsibilities) are being stripped out of the organisation as they are unable to undertake the longer commutes to the new regional centres. So the new "disability inclusive culture" is all pretty academic to them.

    • Replies to David Sangster>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      David & Jon - Thanks for voicing your concerns about the impact of estates rationalisation on diversity and inclusion. We need to ensure that equality analysis is undertaken when drawing up plans to relocate staff to alternative sites or to close buildings to ensure that this does not have an adverse impact on disabled colleagues. If you feel that equality analysis considerations have not been undertaken, please raise this via your Departmental Disability Champion.

  7. Comment by Peter Ryan posted on

    Very encouraging. Philip is demonstrating real commitment and leadership. Hopefully we can all rise to the challenge.

    • Replies to Peter Ryan>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      Peter- Thanks, for your kind words. You are right in highlighting that we all have a collective responsibility to rise to the challenge.

  8. Comment by J. Pincott posted on

    Many disabled colleagues do not wish to disclose disabilities/ill health issues. My Ehlers Danlos Hypermobility syndrome disability is invisible, the visible part is I walk with a cane but my joints dislocate with movement or someone hugging/touching me. Throughout my years in HMRC colleagues i.e. management have seen fit to use it to discriminate against me; I've been on receiving end of this in PMR process this year so I'm not convinced things will change. Disability Confident Scheme 'We must create a culture where people feel that telling their colleagues about their disabilities is not a sign of weakness. In turn, I urge all civil servants to talk about how they can change the way they work to be more disability confident and help improve the performance of the whole team'. I did disclose mine with every manager their reactions have often been hurtful; my fighting for right for furniture/equipment so I can do my duties shouldn't have happened, I shouldn't be punished in PMR process either my disability is not a weakness or an excuse for my request for exemptions from work because I'm physically unable to do it. I'm a DSE Risk Assessor I became one to help others in same situations. Walter Scott's comment 21/11/2016, 'conceal-reveal' dilemma at work', I've often wished I haven't disclosed my problems however I've had/have some wonderful colleagues who've aided me down through years I give my heartfelt 'Thank you' to these people alone.

    • Replies to J. Pincott>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      J Pincott - Thank you for sharing your personal experiences of disclosing your disability. I am sorry to hear that you feel the reactions of managers has been hurtful, that you have had to fight for physical workplace adjustments and have felt punished by the PMR process. This is clearly not acceptable. We need to build a disability inclusive culture in which disabled colleagues feel safe to disclose a non-visible disability, and feel confident that they will receive the same high level of support that Walter alluded to in his posted comment.

  9. Comment by Hiresh Khetia posted on

    I can't wait to see it help people with disabilities move forward in the workplace. If it happens it will be great.

    • Replies to Hiresh Khetia>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      Hiresh - I am also looking forward to seeing how the new scheme will improve the working experience of colleagues with disabilities; in particular the activities within individual department to progress to Disability Confident Leader (level 3) status.

  10. Comment by A Renwick posted on

    I suffer from several conditions which impact my working life and have never felt isolated or alone within the civil service.
    I have however became more aware of the lack of understanding of what is already out there and how it is being interpreted.
    One that springs to mind is GIS (guaranteed interview scheme) It is out there but how many are aware of the provision or understand its workings or purpose?
    Is there an opportunity for some mandatory learning linked to unconscious bias?
    I embrace the direction and the awareness we should achieve through this initiative but we need buy in from all to make it work.

    • Replies to A Renwick>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      A Renwick – Apologies for the delay in responding, I note your point about the lack of understanding, specifically about the workings and purpose of the Guaranteed Interview Scheme (GIS). This GIS has been incorporated in the Government’s new Disability Confident Scheme. I will pass on your feedback to the DWP Disability Confident Team, who are the policy leads for the new scheme.
      With regard to mandating learning which is linked to unconscious bias the Talent Action Plan, published in September 2014, made Unconscious Bias e-learning mandatory for all managers. Some departments have gone further and mandated the learning for all staff.

  11. Comment by Bill posted on

    If you have a good line manager I would agree. However pressure from above means that as soon as you start building up sickness absences your case will be sent to a decision maker for dismissal.

    That is extremely supportive.

    • Replies to Bill>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      Bill – Thank you for your comment, and apologies for the delay in my response. In my experience, most line managers want to support disabled colleagues but sometimes lack disability confidence to have open conversations with disabled colleagues about their disability. If line managers are not applying sickness absence policy correctly, we need to tackle this and provide them with the tools to do this.

  12. Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

    I am a full time civil servant with multiple hidden disabilities. In my 23 years as a civil servant i have seen things improve to some extent, but it could be much better. For example i have to use Zoom text software to deal with the database/computer system that i use every day. No consideration had been given to those with visual impairements when designing the software for the computer system in question. The DWP needs to take on board disabled staff who can identify flaws in any new software being developed before it hits the workshop floor. It would save the DWP a fortune in costs.

    More support needs to be given to those who are deaf as well. I am lucky in that regard as i fought tooth and nail to get the equiptment i needed to take telephone calls and also make them as well. But what about people who are not as assertive as me, what safeguards are in place for them, if they have a line manager who is not sufficiently aware of disability needs an d the equiptment needed to enable someone to do their job.

    Will DWP allow someone with disabilities transfer to another part of DWP if they are no longer able to do the job they are currently in? For example someone with dsycaluisa would no longer be able to effectively work if they are moved to a job in which the ability to work with numbers is essential.

    I also agree that the number of staff with hidden disabilities are shockingly unrepresented in managerial grades. This needs to be improved as quickly as possible.

    I could go on but really there is so much work that needs to be done.

    • Replies to Charlotte Smith>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      Charlotte – Thank you for your comment and apologies for the delay in responding. You make a good point about the importance of “user” testing as well as “accessibility” testing before introducing new IT systems. CSEP colleagues are currently overseeing a strand of work that focuses specifically on accessibility, which includes building a cadre of Assistive Technology Users to test new systems prior to launching them in a live environment. If you would be interested in volunteering to complete some user testing, please email me at with your contact details.
      We are developing some tools to help line managers to build their disability confidence, including a refreshed learning offer which includes Disability Confident videos, featuring actual Civil Servants talking about their disabilities alongside new model workplace adjustment guidance. If we can upskill line managers to be disability confident, it is my hope that, in future, less assertive disabled colleagues will not have to request workplace adjustments; as line managers will initiate disability discussions, including workplace adjustment requirements, as standard practice. Appropriate adjustments could include reconfiguring the job role, or changing job roles if their current post is not conducive with their disability.

  13. Comment by Walter Scott posted on

    I have stammered since early childhood, and as co-chair of a growing military-civilian stammering network, this level of visible commitment at the highest levels of Whitehall feels very significant. For many of us with non-visible, easily misconstrued and sometimes stigmatized conditions, there is often a ‘conceal-reveal’ dilemma at work. The news that all government departments have signed up to the Disability Confident Scheme is the best evidence yet that to be a Civil Servant with a communication impairment or other hidden condition is perfectly OK and that support is available.

    • Replies to Walter Scott>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      Walter - Thanks for your feedback. It is good that you feel that the Civil Service has made progress in enabling colleagues with a hearing impairment or non-visible disability to feel okay about sharing this. I am hoping that initiatives such as the Disability Confident Scheme will enable more disabled colleagues to feel the same. However, I recognise that we still have much more to do in creating an inclusive culture in which all disabled colleagues feel fully able to be themselves at work.