The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has paid out almost £1m to employees over disability discrimination cases in the past four years.
The figures, revealed in a BBC Panorama investigation broadcast on Monday (9 March), found the DWP lost one in eight disability discrimination cases brought against it in 2016-19 – more than any other public or private sector employer in the UK during that period.
Of the 134 claims brought by DWP staff, the tribunal ruled against the department in 17 cases (12.5 per cent) during the four-year period. This compared to 3 per cent of the total number of disability discrimination claims brought against all UK organisations.
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The BBC’s analysis of freedom of information requests showed the government department was also forced to defend more disability discrimination cases than any other employer. It found the DWP paid £953,315 to employees with disabilities as a result of losing employment tribunals or in out-of-court settlements.
In response to the figures, the DWP said it was “shocked that, when presented in this way, the data shows us in this light”. It said it was reviewing its processes to ensure all staff were treated fairly.
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Around 13 per cent (11,000) of the DWP’s 80,000 employees identify as disabled.
Speaking to the BBC, Karen Jackson, disability discrimination lawyer for didlaw, said it was a “horrible irony” that the government department “designed to look after the more vulnerable members of our society” was “constantly falling foul of the Equality Act around disability”.
“To me, that can only suggest that there is something quite fundamentally, systemically wrong within the culture of the organisation,” Jackson said.
Maria Chadwick, partner and a discrimination law specialist at Stephensons Solicitors, said disability discrimination claims against the DWP had been a “consistent feature” of the enquiries she had received and dealt with over the past few years.
Chadwick said she continued to receive calls concerning alleged discrimination. “It is clear that at the heart of the organisation there are some serious issues and challenges to be addressed,” she said, noting that while the DWP had previously pledged to review its policies, it should also interrogate their implementation.
“The implementation of those policies should be scrutinised to ensure that training concerning equality and diversity is conducted as a key priority with a view to any real changes to their current position truly being effected,” she said.
A spokesperson for DWP said: “Fair and respectful treatment is a right, and we do not tolerate discrimination in any form. 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 DWP spokesperson added that the organisation had made “significant progress over the last few years to support employees with disabilities”, including improving how it manages absence and resolves complaints. The spokesperson added that claims were made by fewer than 2 per cent of employees with disabilities.
People Management has previously reported on some of the cases successfully brought against the DWP, including an award in 2019 of £35,677 to Chris Hargreaves, a former DWP employee who suffered from depression after he was denied flexible working hours.
In this case, the judge ruled the DWP failed to comply with its duty to make reasonable adjustments by not taking into account the case manager’s changing circumstances when deciding whether to reinstate flexible working. Hargreaves was initially taken off flexible hours because he was regularly late, but asked for this arrangement to be reintroduced after his depression worsened.
The DWP also came under fire recently for its treatment of a former employee who was subject to discriminatory behaviour and harassment related to her age and race. The body was ordered to pay trainee Anne Giwa-Amu more than £370,000 after she was made to feel “entirely rejected, ridiculed and isolated” by her colleagues during a month-long induction for the role of administrative officer.