Improving lives: the future of work, health and disability

Head and shoulders of Jonathan Jones
Jonathan Jones, Head of the Government Legal Service and Civil Service Health and Well-being Champion
Philip Rutnam, Perm Secretary for the Department for Transport and Civil Service Disability Champion
Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary for the Home Office, and Civil Service Disability Champion

Today, the Government published its response to the Improving Lives - Work, Health and Disability Green Paper. We are writing to let you know what this means for you, and what we are doing in the Civil Service.

The Government response lays the foundation for a comprehensive programme of change in the way we help disabled people into work and improve the services, support and employment prospects available to all staff, including those with a disability or long-term ill health conditions. It also includes our formal response to Thriving at Work, the independent mental health review published on 26 October and previously mentioned by Jeremy Heywood on this blog.

We are committed to making the Civil Service a leading employer in its approach to work, health and disability. It’s one way that we will realise the ambition of ‘A Brilliant Civil Service’ and become the UK’s most inclusive employer by 2020. Our strategic priorities for disability and health and wellbeing  reflect our personal commitment to these.

What we are already doing on disability

One of the key commitments in the Government response is to get one million more disabled people into work within 10 years. Since 2010 we have increased the representation of disabled staff in the Civil Service at all grades below the Senior Civil Service (SCS) from 7.6% to 9.9%.  We know that there is more to do. However, we’re well placed for this, as all of the main government departments became Level 3 Leaders under the Government’s new Disability Confident Scheme at the beginning of November. Additionally, a new taskforce will drive the target for increasing disabled talent in the SCS.

We can’t truly thrive as a leading employer in isolation. We’ve done some innovative work with external partners to create a cross-sector programme on disability inclusion.

The PurpleSpace Bursary Programme has matched some of our leaders with Board level mentors in leading external companies such as KPMG, Fujitsu, Barclays, BT, Coca-Cola and Shell. Participants in the programme are given access to shared learning and development through 3-year free membership of PurpleSpace.  

We also piloted an Autism Exchange Insight Programme in partnership with Ambitious about Autism, a leading charity. This provided 2 weeks paid work experience, support through one-to-one coaching and skills development to young people on the autism spectrum. The programme will be opened up to all departments in 2018 after a successful 2-year pilot in 6 departments.

However, we know more progress is required, particularly in relation to the numbers of disabled staff in the SCS. The commitment to set a new target in the recently launched Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion Strategy will support this.

What we are already doing on mental health

Our plans for mental health reinforce our commitment to the recommendations from the Thriving At Work Review, including a commitment to meeting the core and enhanced standards identified by the review team.

We’re delighted to reflect on the successful introduction of the Health and Well Being category at the Civil Service Awards. The nominations highlighted so much that is good about the way we’re looking at health and wellbeing across departments, and we commend all of the achievements we read about. This year, the award went to HR Directorate in the Crown Prosecution Service. They won the award for introducing a holistic and preventative welfare support package for employees in the Rape and Serious Sexual Offences and Complex Casework units. This is designed to ensure that employees remain resilient, understand the importance of looking after their mental wellbeing and can recognise early signs of distress. Congratulations to everyone involved with this.

During 2018 you’ll start to see improvements in the way we equip leaders to look after their teams. We introduced a new Mental Health Executive Coaching Pilot this September to create a safe, non-judgemental environment to talk about mental health and develop knowledge and emotional resilience. We’re also developing mental health and wellbeing confident leaders training as one of a number of linked initiatives that will help leaders create inclusive teams and manage their wellbeing.

We want to change the culture in organisations by helping our senior and influential leaders to experience how wellbeing feels personally. We’ll expect them to role-model wellbeing and be mindful of the impact of their decisions on the wellbeing of their teams. Initially, training will be for the SCS, where the learning from this roll-out will help to develop further appropriate training for leaders at all levels.

We’re also piloting new ways of helping staff with mental health and musculoskeletal conditions, the two main causes of long-term sick absence in the Civil Service. We’ll be working with departments to test the effect of early, supportive 'day 1' action in these cases. This will help us to understand how we can better prevent and support illness relating to these conditions. The pilots will launch in January 2018 and run for a year.

While there is more to do, we encourage champions, allies, managers and leaders everywhere to get involved with these initiatives and pledge to take positive personal action in these areas during 2018.


  1. Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

    The progress is good but far more needs to be done. You need to look at the whole disability spectrum. I can only speak from my point of view as someone is profoundly deaf and wears hearing aids, that as an examples from a work propsective.

    I recently came up with the suggestion that staff with hearing loss should be offered the same sort of contract deal with a leading opticians that DWP has for staff wearing glasses. This was basically refused on the grounds that one could go to the NHS audiology unit. This was extremely frustrating. NHS audiology is grossily underfunded. It is one of the so called cinderella departments on the NHS. As a consequence NHS digital hearing aids are about 5 years behind the high street counterpart. I have identified a pair of digital hearing aids i would love to have but with the £1k price tag for a pair of them i am forced to rely on the NHS.

    With an ageing workforce, and the retirement age being pushed back later and later, surely DWP could lead the way in offering staff wearing hearing aids the same sort of voucher deals that staff wearing glasses do. After all we need our hearing aids as much as people wearing glasses needs them to do their job too!

    • Replies to Charlotte Smith>

      Comment by DWP Workplace Adjustments Team posted on

      Dear Charlotte,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and sharing your suggestion.

      In DWP we do not offer financial support or funding for hearing aids unless it is required as a reasonable adjustment and the hearing aids are required for use solely in the working environment. This is consistent with the current policy for employees seeking a workplace adjustment or support with optical costs. Financial assistance towards the cost of eye tests, glasses or contact lenses is only provided when an optician certifies that they are required solely for display screen work.

      As you are aware, hearing aids are available through the NHS, and we recommend that DWP employees seek their advice if they are experiencing hearing-related difficulties.

      In regard to workplace adjustments generally, DWP take reasonable steps to ensure our employees are not placed at a substantial disadvantage due to their disability. For people with hearing loss, this could be by providing equipment that works with hearing aids, such as specific headsets and amplifiers.

      If an employee is experiencing a difficulty or barrier at work we would encourage them to have a conversation with their line manager and find out if there is support available to help.

      I hope that this reply addresses your points. Thanks again for raising them.

  2. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Jonathan and Philip for promoting this. As an Advocate of Diversity and Inclusion I feel that we should take a moment to celebrate the achievements that we have made.

    Certainly within the FCO the FCO Staff Associations ENABLE and the WELLBEING NETWORK have done much to increase awareness and understanding about Disability and Mental Health issues and have been successful in ensure that we have a much more inclusive working environment.

    Even now that I am based overseas working in our British Consulate-General Offices in Istanbul, as a Mental Health First Aider, I have been able within a short period of time sought to promote ways in which we can support each other when the need arises.

    So I welcome this initiative in a positive way.

    However, as I had mentioned in an earlier blog concerning disability, it concerns me that there still appears to be occasions where Line Managers are not support colleagues and reasonable workplace adjustments are not being put into place!

    Perhaps this is something that needs to be addressed if we can then say that we being Disability Confident / Disability Smart.

  3. Comment by Caroline MacDonald posted on

    It is great that there is so much positivity and enthusiasm to improve opportunities for disabled people within the civil service.

    One area that may help is for disabled employees within the civil service to have the same access to funding for equipment and adaptations via the excellent Access to Work scheme as employees of all other organisations.

    At present, employees of government departments can have an assessment of their equipment and adaptation needs from Access to Work. However, uniquely to the civil service, Access to Work funding is not available to civil servants as departments should meet the needs of their employees from their own budgets. Each HR department decides how much of the Access to Work recommendations they want to fund - which may only be a small part of what has been recommended. This is totally different than all other employers, where Access to Work will fully meet the needs of new employees and a large proportion of existing employee's needs.

    This is creating a strong disincentive to disabled employees to join or stay with the service.


Leave a comment

We only ask for your email address so we know you're a real person