Police Superintendents Logo

Disability – a neglected or protected characteristic?

PSA President Paul Griffiths discusses the importance of ensuring our police forces represent the rich and diverse groups that make up our communities, with a focus on disability.

For a long time, the police service has been criticised for failing to represent the communities it serves and for making mistakes in understanding the rich and diverse groups that make up our communities and our workforce. Huge progress has been made but we are still a long way from reaching a point where we can honestly say we’re getting this right.

Why is this so important?  

We police by consent.  The public has to trust us and have confidence in the service we provide.  This can only happen when they see a police service that mirrors their community and understands their culture, lifestyle and the challenges they face.
Similarly, members of the service must believe that their leaders understand their workforce and the diverse experiences they bring to a force.
Nine protected characteristics are addressed within the NPCC’s Diversity Strategy and Toolkit. They are all important and add a richness to the fabric of our workforce, but in this blog, I want to focus on disability.
There are almost 14 million disabled people living in the UK, with 19% of working age adults classed as disabled.* If we want our Service to be representative of the communities we serve, we should be attracting and retaining skilled workers who are disabled. This seems simple, but it’s not happening.
Figures from 2014 show that just 1.9% of police officers had declared a disability.** Our own current statistics confirm this huge underrepresentation.  Of 1285 Superintendents and Chief Superintendents in our Association, only 18 stated they have a disability (1.4%).
So what can we do to change this?

As leaders and influencers, we must play our part in working towards the vision that the NPCC clearly sets out in its strategy. The PSA has been campaigning for an independent review of policing, and we feel that this NPCC strategy should to be at the core of our organisation, now and for the future. This will be a central theme in the forthcoming National Disability in Policing event, at which our Vice President, Ian Wylie, will be speaking and outlining our commitment and drive.
Workforce confidence: I am under no illusion that our own Association figures, plus those of policing nationally, do not represent the true nature of our workforce.  There are people working within policing who are living with various challenges posed by a disability and choose not to declare it. Figures from our own resilience survey in 2016, showed that 50% of our members were showing signs of anxiety and 27% were showing signs of depression – invisible to many but with potentially serious consequences.  These figures seem at stark contrast to the 1.4% of members who officially state that they have a disability. The true answer is clearly somewhere in between.

We need to empower people to feel confident in asking for support and speaking out about whatever physical or psychological challenges they face, so that we can put practical measures in place to help them with their everyday work.

It is no surprise that there is hesitation on the part of officers living with a disability to speak openly about this, when faced with uncertainty over pay and conditions relating to those who are considered as not ‘fully deployable’.  This issue is one we take very seriously and, in our work on pay and conditions,  continue to challenge on behalf of our members and the wider service.

Recruitment: We know that there is a lack of disabled applicants for policing roles and we need to encourage people with strong skills and experience to feel confident in applying for the huge range of jobs our service offers.  This isn’t easy, but we need to build confidence in communities that feel under-represented, including the disabled population, and lead by example, showing them the positive impact they can have.

Some forces are accredited under the Disability Confident scheme, and are actively encouraging applications from the disabled community, whilst supporting career progression for disabled members of staff. 

Indeed, our own coaching and mentoring scheme sets out to provide support to employees from under-represented groups, so please reach out to disabled colleagues and encourage them to consider using this support. As senior operational leaders, I would encourage you to support this within your own forces, so that as an Association, we can show we care and lead the way in building a workforce that we can confidently say is more representative of those we serve.