Today, to coincide with UN Day of People with Disabilities, my independent review into disability and public appointments will be launched in Westminster. Currently just 3% of public appointees declare a disability. An absolutely shocking figure. That is 180 people out of 6000 public appointments on 500 bodies responsible for £200 billion of public funds across, but not limited to: healthcare, education, the criminal justice system, energy, security and defence. These are significant positions that have an impact on all our lives.
When the Minister for Implementation, Oliver Dowden, invited me to conduct the review he made the point that it is essential that public appointees are truly representative of the society they serve. I completely agree. I believe it is also about talent and this is a core principle underpinning the review. We must access and enable talent in its broadest most brilliant form, not just that of a tiny elite. So much talent is currently sadly wasted, often as a result of inaccessible, non inclusive, non innovative approaches, practices and cultures.
I agreed to lead this independent review to uncover the reasons for this shocking – 3% – statistic. To discover and fully expose the barriers, blockers and bias but, most importantly, to set out ambitious, achievable recommendations to make long-overdue change.
A key recommendation is that the Government set a target of 11.3% of all public appointees to be disabled people. . Other recommendations focus on consistent, comprehensive data collection and transparency alongside a more innovative and flexible approach at all stages of the recruitment process.
Opening up public appointments to disabled talent is not looking to give anyone an unfair advantage. An equitable, inclusive, fully accessible and positive process puts everyone on the same start line. It allows everyone to run whatever race they choose with fairness, dignity and respect throughout. A guaranteed interview is not a leg up, it’s a tool to allow someone with valuable lived experience to get in front of an interview panel. Offering alternative ways to apply is not giving a neuro-diverse person an edge, it may well be the difference which means someone could apply at all.
The review benefitted greatly from the contributions of the nearly two hundred members of the public who responded to our call for evidence as well as Disabled Peoples Organisations, Ministers of State, Civil Servants and Public Appointees. Individual stories and experiences are the most powerful case for change as well as understanding the status quo. As one respondent said “access is not just physical, it’s emotional and attitudinal.”
Although the recommendations are focussed on increasing the number of disabled applicants, interviewees and appointees, I believe that they could have general applicability and benefits in many situations, across public appointments and to all talent acquisition and recruitment practices.
Positive change requires leadership, culture and innovation and I am convinced that substantial, sustainable change is possible. It will not be easy but it is absolutely achievable. Currently, talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. I hope this review and its recommendations will play some part in addressing this avoidable failing.
Let’s turn this public Dis-appointment into an opportunity to show that we are a country that enables and empowers all our talent, not least, that held by disabled people across the nation.
The Review is available in full and in accessible formats on Gov.UK.