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Disabled People

Work and Pensions written question – answered on 11th May 2006.

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Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State), Department for International Development

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on his Department's progress in fulfilling its statutory obligation as a public body of promoting the rights of disabled people.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 placed new duties on public authorities to promote equality for disabled people, 'the Disability Equality Duty'. This Department (DWP) has taken the following steps to meet the Disability Equality Duty:

DWP is host to the Office for Disability Issues (ODI), which was launched on 1 December 2005 to take forward the Government's strategy for improving the life chances of disabled people. One element of this work will be to overset the effective implementation of the Disability Equality Duty. The ODI is working in partnership with the Disability Rights Commission to support and encourage Departments to commit to meaningful actions that will improve their policies and services and realise the potential of their diverse workforces.

The Department is already working towards the publication of its disability equality schemes by 4 December 2006. The process was formally launched in April 2006 and will mean both central units and agencies involving disabled people in developing action plans for tackling problem areas and identifying positive actions to address these. We have also already begun planning for the Secretary of State's report due in 2008.

DWP is currently revising its existing guidance on accessible communications with a view to introducing a new standard for information accessibility. This set of standards will form part of the disability equality scheme referred to earlier.

We have commissioned public access audits of all its premises used by the public during 2003. A total of 1,735 buildings were surveyed, and a programme of public access improvement works commissioned on 1,032 sites which are scheduled for completion in June 2006. The existing public access provisions are subject to annual review and any future additional requirement is built into the annual maintenance work programmes.

The Department wants staff to understand and embrace diversity and an important part of achieving this has been the development of a diversity toolkit which makes all our diversity and equality policy and information easily accessible in one place on an internal website. The toolkit also is now being used by around 70 other organisations.

The Department is keen to ensure we meet the workplace needs of disabled staff and potential staff and recently DWP has run two pilot exercises on a revised process for delivering reasonable workplace adjustments for staff. The development of the new process was partly in response to the length of time it took to assess and put reasonable adjustments into place, and partly to ensure that the recommended adjustment was the most suitable for that individual. A third pilot is due to start shortly. This will be followed by a formal evaluation exercise. On completion of the first two pilots, and subject to the evaluation, we will commence planning for national implementation across the Department and agencies.

DWP encourages all business units to consider the potential impact of policy and services on all equality groups, ahead of future legislation. For example, at least three impact assessments have been completed to date by the Disability and Carers Service, taking into account disability, with a number of additional assessments in the process of being completed.

The Department has been working in partnership with the Employers' Forum on Disability in order to address the needs of its disabled customers. In particular, it has contributed, along with other public and private organisations, to the interactive "Disability Confident" training resource pack which uses both video and DVD format. This addresses the key principles of dealing with disabled people in general, and particularly communications issues relating to those with specific impairments. This earned a special commendation in the prestigious 'World of Learning Awards'.

Both the Minister for Disabled People and senior officials participate in an annual series of meetings with disabled customers and those with disability interests to explain current and planned policy, and to gain a better knowledge of people's views and concerns.

DWP consults with staff on disability issues through a National Disability Staff Network Group. The Department has recently reviewed all of the staff network groups with the intention of raising their profile and enabling them to contribute to successful diversity outcomes for the Department. Representatives from all of the groups have met with the recently appointed Permanent Secretary twice and he has committed to meet with them on a quarterly basis.

DWP also analyses, and acts upon, staff perceptions on diversity issues in the annual staff attitude survey; and meets regularly with trade unions side to consider disability along with other diversity issues. In addition, staff can raise diversity issues at regular staff forum events held around the country and via a site on the DWP intranet.

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