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Top civil servant warned to keep disability secret

By DPF Admin5th January 2015August 6th, 2019Area Updates, Latest News, Northern Updates, Southern Updates

One of the UK’s most senior former civil servants has disclosed that he was warned to keep his disability secret for fear it would end his career.

Andrew McDonald, the founding chief executive of Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which oversees MPs’ expenses, said colleagues warned him against being open about his diagnosis with Parkinson's disease eight years ago.

Mr McDonald, who also has prostate cancer, was speaking after taking over as chairman of Scope, one of the UK’s biggest disability charities.

It came as new research by the charity found that three quarters of disabled people believed they had lost out on a job opportunity because of negative attitudes towards disability from a would-be employer.

Of those more than four in 10 said it happened “every time” or “a lot of the time” they had applied for a job or attended an interview.

Mr McDonald, who spent 20 years in the Civil Service, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2007 and prostate cancer three years later.

As a result of his experience, he took on a leading role in implementing changes to support for disabled staff in the Civil Service.

He said: “When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson's, I wanted to get on with my life but I also wanted to be open with my team.

“But colleagues advised me not to do so – ‘because you will be labelled as a disabled civil servant and it will end your career’.

“I was really shocked – I decided I wanted to go ahead all the same because if I didn't, I felt I was making it more difficult for the next person.

“And [I thought] if these attitudes persisted in the Civil Service, a relatively liberal and enlightened employer, what were things like elsewhere?”

“That experience left me with the clear conviction that we need to act to make our workplaces more open to discussion of illness and disability.

“We need them to be safe and supportive environments in which everybody feels their voice will be heard. And we all – disabled or not – have a responsibility to bring that about.”

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