A recent BBC Panorama investigation has uncovered that the DWP lost 17 out of 133 claims of discrimination brought by its own disabled employees from 2016-19. The surprising statistics were uncovered following analysis of the data published online on the Employment Tribunal decisions database.
The DWP is the government department responsible for supporting people with disabilities into employment, with nearly 14% of its workforce identifying as disabled.
Not only did the DWP top the list for both the highest total number of cases brought and for losing more cases than any other employer, they also suffered more tribunal defeats in proportion to its total number of employees. They have paid out over £950,000 in both tribunal payments and out-of-court settlements during this period.
The number of cases lost by DWP equates to 12.5%, compared to an average of 3% amongst all other employers.
What is Disability Discrimination?
Disability is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, which provides protection against discrimination for a number of listed characteristics which people may possess. Some of the other characteristics include age, race, or sexual orientation.
Under the legislation, disability is any physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
Certain characteristics or conditions are automatically considered as a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act without having to consider the above questions (e.g. Blindness or suffering from cancer). Conversely, some conditions will never be considered an impairment for these purposes and therefore never amount to a disability (e.g. Alcohol addiction or hay fever).
Discrimination can occur in a number of different ways, including directly or indirectly, or through harassment or victimisation.
These figures cannot help but to invoke a feeling of shock, along with an unfortunate hint of irony, that a government department is four times more likely than other employers to discriminate against the very class of people it has been created to assist.
A spokesperson at DWP commented that they had made “significant progress over the last few years to support employees with disability”, and that claims were brought by fewer than 2% of employees with disabilities, although recognised that this figure is still too high.
For employers, it is important to have policies in place to assist and protect any employee that possesses any of the protected characteristics contained within the Equality Act 2010, and the DWP has said that in recent years they have reviewed their relevant policies. However Maria Chadwick, a partner at Stephensons Solicitors points out that not only should these policies be reviewed, but the implementation of these policies must also be scrutinised to ensure “changes to their current position [are] truly being effected”.
In light of these recent findings, DWP will undoubtedly place fresh scrutiny on their policies and the implementation thereof, to avoid similarly embarrassing situations in the future.