Thousands of bogus job applications have been sent out by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to test whether employers are discriminating against applicants with foreign-sounding names.
Some 3,000 such applications were sent out between November 2008 and May 2009, according to the DWP, in response to “real” jobs that were advertised in the press and online. Applicants’ details for each job were “carefully matched” though not identical.
Employers who offered interviews to the bogus applicants were put through to a phone number where their offer was declined.
A DWP spokeswoman said that “although the full results are not yet in, they are indicating that employers do still discriminate against people solely on the basis of having an ethnic minority name and we will be considering how to… reduce such an unfair outcome.”
The DWP insisted that employers’ details will remain anonymous and their responses will be treated “in confidence”.
The DWP added that although the idea of amending the Equality Bill to include something that could ban employers from asking for applicants’ names had been discussed, the idea was “withdrawn”.
The British Chambers of Commerce said it was “shocked” to learn about the DWP exercise.
“Businesses have enough on their plate without having to deal with the underhand tactics of the DWP,” said a spokesman.
Employment lawyer Pam Loch, of Loch Associates, said: “The government’s approach can be viewed as a positive step to combat discrimination. However, these sort of tactics can also be rather dubious given that it can encourage others to do the same while they may only be seeking financial gain.
“There have been instances in the past where claimants have used similar tactics, abusing the system to feather their nests and subsequently being declared vexatious litigants. The government should be prudent with their methods of enforcing equality in the workplace to ensure they are not seen to be condoning the use of underhand tactics.”
The DWP exercise was commissioned by its ethnic minority taskforce, which is looking to address discrimination against jobseekers from ethnic minority backgrounds.
In May, Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone called for initial job applications to be anonymous.
The DWP said it will use the research to help judge overall levels of discrimination in the jobs market.