Memorandum by the Disability Rights Commission (PAP 59)
1. The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) was created by the Disability Rights Commission Act 1999 (DRCA) . Section II of the DRCA imposes the following duties on the Commission:
to work towards the elimination of discrimination against disabled persons;
to promote the equalisation of opportunities for disabled persons;
to take such steps as is considered appropriate with a view to encouraging good practice in the treatment of disabled persons; and
to keep under review the workings of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 and this Act.
2. The Commission has given itself the vision of seeking to achieve a society in which all disabled people can participate fully as equal citizens.
3. The DRC's Disability Briefing May 2002 (www.drc-gb.org) sets out some key statistics relating to disabled people's participation in society. There are over 6.9 million disabled people of working age in Great Britain, accounting for nearly a fifth of the working age population and they are around five times as likely as non-disabled people to be out of work and claiming benefits.
4. The DRC would expect participation of disabled people in public life through public appointments at national level to reflect the proportion of disabled people within the working age population. It is vital that disabled people have the opportunity to bring their skills and experience to public bodies to help ensure that all public bodies take account of the requirements and perspectives of disabled people. For this to occur aspects of the public appointments system will have to improve and we have made suggestions in our response to aid this.
5. The DRC has been working closely in recent months with the Public Appointments Unit (PAU) in the Cabinet Office. The PAU has been making sterling efforts to improve diversity in public appointments including increasing the numbers of disabled people taking up appointments. This work is reflected in the Cabinet Office publication, Public BodiesOpening Up Public Appointments 2002-05, which sets out the plans of individual Government departments. It is the view of the DRC that this report demonstrates that some Government departments are not yet fully committed to increasing the numbers of disabled people holding public appointments. There is a very wide range of targets for the proportion of public appointments held by disabled people and in some cases there is no target set at all. This lack of consistency from Government departments in their approach is reflected by the paucity of information on the participation of disabled people in the report, Public Bodies 2001. This also makes it very difficult to set a proper baseline against which overall performance can be judged.
6. The DRC response to the consultation deals with three areas:
Diversity in public appointmentsin full.
Public understandingin full.
7. It is in this context that the DRC welcomes this inquiry. We believe that it is vital that disabled people have the opportunity to take up public appointments and we look forward to the Committee's recommendations to Government.
DISABILITY RIGHTS COMMISSION RESPONSE
Diversity in public appointments
Q13. Is there evidence to suggest that the current system is not attracting applications from the widest pool of candidates?
The publication, Public Bodies 2001, starkly demonstrates that the current system is not attracting disabled candidates. The overall proportion of the 29,499 posts held by disabled people is 1.5 per cent or 440 people. In addition the Public Bodies 2001 publication does not have comprehensive data on the total number of appointments held by disabled people. This means there is no proper baseline to judge progress over time. The DRC recommends that the next edition of Public Bodies should carry full data.
Further evidence is supplied by the plans of individual Government departments for the period 2002-05, published in the Cabinet Office report, Public BodiesOpening Up Public Appointments 2002-2005. Some departments such as the Department for International Development and the Lord Chancellor's Department have not even set a target for increasing the proportion of appointments held by disabled people. This is despite the very low levels of participation of disabled people in their appointments, for example only 1.4 per cent of appointments in the Lord Chancellor's Department are held by disabled people, for the Department for International Development the figure is zero. This contrasts with for example the Ministry of Defence which has set a target of moving from 12 per cent to 15 per cent by December 2005, well on the way to reflecting the national average representation of disabled people in the working population. Other departments have set themselves very low targets, reflecting in part the very small proportion of appointments currently held by disabled people. The DRC recommends that all Government departments should review their targets and seek to set more stretching targets.
The DRC also believes that application processes act to discourage disabled people from applying for public appointments. For example appointment advertisements could be more accessible if they were in 14pt font rather than often 10 or 12pt. Likewise they could be consistently advertised more widely in publications such as Disability Now. Application forms should always be available in a range of formats and should deal with the question of disability through use of the self declaration question "Do you consider yourself to be disabled?". The interview process involving independent assessors could also reflect a more diverse approach, for example the DRC believes that there are few if any disabled independent assessors reflected in the target of the then Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to recruit one disabled independent assessor. Approaches such as this will also give a positive message that Government departments are serious about improving diversity in public appointments.
Q14. How can greater diversity best be combined with reassurance that the principle of merit in public appointments is being upheld?
The DRC believes that diversity and merit are directly linked. The best way to ensure that the principle of merit in public appointments is upheld is to ensure that as wide a pool of applicants as possible is available. The promotion of diversity is thus inextricably linked with that of merit and it would be very disappointing if any Government department was to attempt to use the argument that diversity would lead to reduced merit.
Q15. Would a more consistent use of remuneration for members of public bodies help to increase diversity in their membership? Are there any possible drawbacks to an increase in the number of remunerated members?
The DRC believes that there should be a more consistent use of remuneration for appointments, ideally with fees being paid for all positions. The issue for many disabled people is that as they are on benefits if they were to take up a remunerated appointment they would lose their benefits. This undoubtedly leads potential disabled applicants to decide not to apply for posts. The DRC recommends that the Government should review the impact of benefits rules on applicants to public appointments that are remunerated.
Q16. Is the public appointments process understood by members of the public and seen to be fair, open, transparent and easy to travel through?
The public appointments process is clearly not widely understood by disabled people given their considerable under representation on public bodies. The comments in response to question 13 above are indicative that for disabled people the process is often not accessible and thus is not regarded as transparent and open. An approach that could aid greater understanding is to set up shadowing opportunities for disabled people who are interested in applying for public appointments so they can understand what it involves. Above all there is a need for greater publicity and consistency to the process.
Q17. What improvements, if any, should be made in the way in which advertising or publicising public appointments are made?
There are a number of improvements that could be made. Comments have already been made in response to question 13 about advertising formats and outlets. A further improvement that could be made is to have a single website that has all current vacancies on it with downloadable and online application forms. This would then need to be widely publicised for example by hotlinks with websites of organisations such as the DRC.
Q18. What is your understanding of the role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, Dame Rennie Fritchie?
The DRC understands Dame Rennie Fritchie's role as being to regulate, monitor and report on ministerial appointments to health bodies, advisory and executive non-departmental public bodies, public corporations, nationalised industries and the appointments of the utility regulators. The DRC is aware that the Commissioner has made very positive efforts to promote diversity in appointments and supports her in her activities.
Q20. Are there ways in which the system of independent assessors for public appointments can be improved?
The system can be improved by ensuring that there are disabled people acting as independent assessors and that independent assessors have disability equality training and can therefore interview disabled candidates appropriately.
Q25. Should every candidate, even important people for high level appointments, be asked to complete application forms and attend interviews in the normal way?
The DRC believes that to ensure fair and open processes all candidates for appointments should follow similar processes. The essential point is that the processes must be accessible and not implemented in such a way as to discriminate against disabled people.