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Disabled association demands review to end 'appalling statistics for badly let down police workforce'

World-first conference tells chiefs: Today we are where women were in policing 30 years ago.

World first: Dr Rob Gurney addresses the Enable not Disable conference in Hatfield

World first: Dr Rob Gurney addresses the Enable not Disable conference in Hatfield

Date - 5th June 2019
By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle
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Disabled police personnel challenged national chiefs to “start listening” in demanding an independent review on discrimination and adopting a “step change in attitudes” for a truly representative service in a world-first setting today.

Policing risks losing the trust of the wider community if its own disabled officers, staff and volunteers lack confidence in its leaders, an inaugural conference heard.

The Disabled Police Association threw down the gauntlet over the service’s “lack of engagement” and a perceived failure to secure the confidence of a “badly let down” workforce.

Association founder and president Rob Gurney spelled out a blunt personal message of a public service with very high percentages of people with a disability at risk of redundancy and redeployment or pay reduction – resulting in a fear of officers and staff being open about their “difference”.

Dr Gurney warned: “We are where women were in policing 30 years ago.

“And that is clearly not a good position for the employer or the employee.”

The Hertfordshire officer pointed to nearly half – 44 per cent – of all employment tribunals brought against UK policing being based on disability discrimination.

The 30-year career officer added: “These are appalling statistics that evidence the need for an independent review of disability discrimination within the police service.”

Speaking to delegates at the first global disability-in-policing gathering at the Fielder Centre in Hatfield Business Park, Hertfordshire, the association president asked: “A lack of engagement with the disabled community is placing the service at a serious disadvantage and if the internal disabled community is lacking confidence in the Police how can the wider community have trust that the service will support them?”

He told the Enable not Disable conference: “In terms of disability, we simply don’t see any evidence of compliance or of these objectives having been set.

“On behalf of the Disabled Police Association I issue a challenge to the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing to start listening to the views of people with disabilities, to consider them when making decisions about matters that affect people with disabilities or carer responsibilities.

“I urge you to reconsider your preconceptions about disability in policing and consider what might be done to secure the confidence of a community that feels overlooked and badly let down.

“There needs to be a step change in attitudes towards disability if the police service is to become truly representative of and gain the respect of the disabled communities that it serves.”

He invited the chiefs and the College to find the answer to the question, ‘Where does disability belong in the police service.’

The conference heard there are numerous ‘reasonable adjustment’ policies and ‘disability passport’ initiatives that have the same aim in mind but often say different things.

The result is disparity in the treatment of people with a disability doing the same job but in different forces, added Dr Gurney.

The DPA and the College are now working together to produce standardised practice and guidance to forces and a small working party has been set up to gain a service user perspective.

He went on: “I will just be clear about this, the DPA does not recommend or promote one specific policy or disability passport but we are doing all we can to support the NPCC and the College to formulate nationally agreed documentation that eliminates the current disparity between forces.”

The conference was asked why is it that the only protected characteristic that has to be proved in the police service is disability.

Dr Gurney added: “I am not required to prove my faith, my gender, my sexual orientation or my race but if I ask for reasonable adjustments for a disability I am required to prove that I am a disabled person.

“And that’s where it can get really challenging because for the sake of a minor reasonable adjustment a person may be required to undertake medical review, psychological or psychometric assessment

“In one force we have got some student officers who have been waiting so long for assessment to ‘prove’ that they are dyslexic that they are reaching the end of their training.

“The main point is that while middle managers prevaricate over many months, a disabled person is denied some very simple reasonable adjustments that would enable them to do their job.”

The association president continued to paint a stark picture for disabled personnel within the service with no state funding for the association and, unlike other police bodies, receives no financial or developmental support from any statutory body in policing.

The DPA has been working proactively to try and secure funding for research into disability in support of policing – so far without success.

Forces hold very little data on disability unlike other disciplines such as gender and ethnicity.

Dr Gurney added: “This is a key issue for us, an organisation that doesn’t know the demographics of its workforce.

“And worse still, the public sector equality duty requires the police to maintain such data.”

He told the conference he hoped 2018 would herald a change of priorities towards disability in the police service following the publication of the government paper ‘Improving Lives, The Future of Work, Health and Disability’

But he said 2019 dawned with the key issues still being the same as the previous year, in terms of equality of opportunity for people with disabilities; overcoming physical and hidden barriers; strategic engagement required from the NPCC and College of Policing; disability awareness training required for all; career progression; sickness management; and provision of reasonable adjustments.

He stressed that the Public Sector Equality Duty, which came into force in April 2011, by now should be providing good decision-making by ensuring public bodies consider how different people will be affected by their activities, helping them to deliver policies and services which are efficient and effective; accessible to all; and which meet different people’s needs.

But the fact the association is still concerned eight years on for the three main features of the regulations’ – eliminating discrimination, advancing equality of opportunity, and fostering good relations between different people when carrying out their activities – ought to be ringing some alarm bells for senior leaders in policing.

Policing’s top civil servant – Home Office Permanent Secretary Sir Philip Rutnam – told the audience: “Disability is an opportunity not a problem.

“It’s mission critical that we are reflective of the communities we serve.”

At the start of the inaugural event, Dr Gurney said its aim was to promote the ability of people with a disability and carers within the service before offering a “massive” thank you to conference sponsors Police Care UK and Police Mutual.

He added: “Today marks the first or what we hope will be an annual event in UK policing, an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of people with disabilities and to reflect on areas where life is challenging for them.”

Due to that lack of funding from any quarter, he went on: “That’s why our independent private sponsorship is so incredibly important to us and why we are immensely grateful to them.”

He also praised the work of the new leaders of the Police Federation for “embracing diversity and listening to the challenges affecting diverse groups within the service”.

“The federation is to be heartily congratulated for providing an opportunity for a regular meeting of the national leads for all of the networks representing minority groups within policing,” said Dr Gurney.

The association, now six years old, acts as an umbrella organisation for all disability networks, with expert representation drawn from across its UK membership.

It recognises the benefits of a consolidated approach with one main group having subject matter experts to speak out at a national level – a position welcomed by both the NPCC and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners who have highlighted the difficulties of engaging with large numbers of diversity support networks.

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