DWP loses 12.5% disability discrimination claims

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The Department for Work and Pensions lost one in eight disability discrimination cases brought against it in 2016-19 – more than any UK employer during that period.

The figures, which were revealed by BBC Panorama following an analysis of employment tribunal data , show the government department had defended more, and lost more, disability discrimination cases than any other employer.

Of the 134 disability discrimination claims brought by DWP staff, 12.5%, or 17, were lost by the organisation in the three-year period. This is compared with 3% of the total number of disability discrimination claims brought against employers in the UK.

Freedom of Information requests found the the DWP paid out at least £953,315 employees with disabilities as a result of losing employment tribunals, or in out-of-court settlements. Forty-five cases were settled out of court.

Of its 80,000 employees, 11,000 (around 13%) identify as disabled.

“There is a horrible irony that the organisation that is designed to look after the more vulnerable members of our society is constantly falling foul of the Equality Act around disability,” said Karen Jackson, a lawyer who specialises in disability discrimination at Didlaw, told the BBC.

“To me, that can only suggest that there is something quite fundamentally, systemically wrong within the culture of the organisation.”

In 2018, former DWP employee Barrie Caulcutt won £26,000 in compensation after an employment tribunal ruled he was treated unfairly.

Caulcutt, who suffered from chronic asthma, anxiety and eczema, was moved from an office role to a customer-facing position, contrary to advice from the department’s occupational health function and his GP. He later suffered an asthma attack after being told to take part in a training exercise in a small room that made him anxious.

In response to the figures, the DWP said claims had been made by fewer than 2% of employees with disabilities.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Fair and respectful treatment is a right and we do not tolerate discrimination in any form.

“DWP has a diverse workforce of more than 80,000 staff and we are proud that 11,000 identify as disabled. We are therefore shocked that, when presented in this way, the data shows us in this light.

“We have worked hard to ensure staff always have a route – informally and formally – to raise any concerns with someone they trust and while cases brought against us come from less than 2% of our staff with disabilities, this figure is still too high.

“We have instigated a review of our processes and actions following tribunal cases, to ensure all our employees are treated fairly and with respect.”

The spokesperson added that the organisation has “made significant progress over the last few years to support employees with disabilities”, including improving how it manages absence and resolves complaints. It has also introduced 1,600 mental health first aiders.

Last month a former DWP administration officer who was of mixed Nigerian and Welsh decent won a payout of almost £400,000 after successfully claiming she had been discriminated against because of her age and race.

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