Tuesday, 29 June 2021
Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
170. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the way his Department and public bodies and agencies under his remit undertake disability impact assessments; the process by which these assessments are monitored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34876/21]
Built on the performance budgeting framework that has been progressively embedded into the budget cycle since its introduction in 2011, Equality Budgeting has been developed over recent years with a view to enhancing the role of resource allocation policies in advancing equality, reducing poverty and strengthening economic and social rights. Equality budgeting should not be regarded as something separate from the budget process; the intention is to embed equality perspectives across the whole-of-year budgetary process. The pilot programme of equality budgeting was introduced for the 2018 budgetary cycle, anchored in the existing performance budgeting framework. Following the achievements of the pilot programme, Equality Budgeting was expanded in 2019 to further develop the gender budgeting elements and to broaden its scope to other dimensions of equality including poverty, socioeconomic inequality and disability.
Responsibility for proofing expenditure programmes, the selection of indicators, and making progress towards achieving the high-level goals articulated remains a matter for the individual Departments in the first instance. The role of my Department is to facilitate and advance this initiative and provide support for Departments to clarify and to fulfil their equality-related objectives.
To further guide the rollout of equality budgeting, an Equality Budgeting Expert Advisory Group was established, holding its first meeting in September 2018. This group, including the National Disability Authority, is comprised of a broad range of relevant stakeholders and policy experts to provide advice on the most effective way to advance equality budgeting policy. Earlier this year, Government agreed to the establishment of an inter-departmental group for Equality Budgeting to facilitate the embedding of the initiative across all Government Departments. This group will play a key role in guiding the continued progress of Equality Budgeting and as a result of this group's efforts, it is expected that all Departments will be participating in Equality Budgeting within the next 12 months.
All public bodies in Ireland have responsibility to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of their employees, customers, service users and everyone affected by their policies and plans. This is a legal obligation, referred to as the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty, and it originates in Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Act. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) are also members of the Expert Advisory Group and the Public Sector Duty is reflected in all Equality Budgeting policies as appropriate. Details of the implementation of the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty by the Department are set out on the gov.ie website at thislink: www.gov.ie/en/organisation-information/5df24-public-sector-equality-and-human-rights-duty/.
In terms of employment, I am committed to ensuring that we continue to build a diverse Civil Service that is reflective of the modern Ireland that we serve. As Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, I have policy responsibility for recruitment to the Civil Service. The Civil Service is strongly committed to equality of opportunity for all in terms of its recruitment and employment practices. Within my own Department, the HR Unit developed a HR Strategy that has a focus on embracing and embedding a culture of diversity and inclusion across the Department through diversity initiatives and training. This has included the establishment of a vibrant cross-Divisional and cross-grade Diversity and Inclusion staff forum, the PERspectives Group. My Department has a Disability Liaison Officer (DLO) who supports new members of staff with a disability or existing staff who acquire a disability and raise awareness about disability. New hires receive the Code of Practice for the Employment of People with a Disability in the Irish Civil Service, a welcome letter from the Department’s DLO and FAQs on Disability prepared by the National Disability Authority. The induction of new hires includes a presentation and Q&A session with the DLO.
The position in relation to the bodies under the aegis of my Department is set out below. All bodies under my aegis have appointed Disability Liaison Officers (DLOs) and have proactively made available work placement opportunities for participants on the Willing Able Mentoring (WAM) Programme and the Oireachtas Work Learning (OWL) Programme, with a number of these being converted to permanent positions. Embedding diversity and inclusion within each body is a core focus of the respective Management Boards with key ED&I initiatives reflected in existing local HR strategies or those being developed by bodies, such as the EMPOWER People Strategy in the case of the Office of Government Procurement.
Office of Public Works (OPW)
The Office of Public Works is subject to compliance with Guidelines set out in the Cabinet Handbook in respect of Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) of policy and legislative proposals submitted to Cabinet via Memoranda to Government. The Cabinet Handbook requires that such Memoranda include an indication of the impacts on people with disabilities arising from proposed changes to the regulatory framework. Appendix III of the Handbook sets out step-by-step processes for conducting regulatory impact screening and impact assessment.
While the functions and purpose of the Office of Public Works are such that the Office is not primarily involved in developing national policy or legislation, the process steps set out in the Cabinet Handbook guide the Office’s approach to undertaking any necessary disability impact assessments.
Public Appointments Service (PAS)
PAS protect and respect equality, diversity & human rights in all dealings with customers, and within services provided, procedures and processes, in accordance with Public Sector Duty principles. PAS are an Equal Opportunities Employer and this is highlighted in advertising and communication with PAS candidates. It is essential for PAS that processes do not have an adverse impact on candidates within any of the protected grounds. PAS have an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) unit to develop strategies and policies related to ED&I, and a Disability Champion to act as a point of contact for candidates with a disability.
The tests and assessments used as part of recruitment processes are trialled to ensure they are free from bias. A range of reasonable accommodations or adjustments are provided to candidates on a case by case basis to ensure they have an equal opportunity to perform within the assessment processes, which includes extra time, scribes, format changes and screen reader technology. Candidate performance on assessments is monitored against a range of areas including gender, age and disability to ensure that there is no adverse impact.
PAS undertook a web accessibility audit in August 2020 working with an expert in this field to identify areas for potential improvement in accessibility across all website platforms. The improvements have already been implemented or scheduled for implementation throughout 2021 through the wider organisational digital transformation goals.
National Shared Services Office (NSSO)
Whilst the National Shared Services Office (NSSO) does not carry out disability impact assessments, due consideration is given to understanding the impact of existing or proposed services, policies and practices in relation to their consequences for equality for persons with a disability. The NSSO is an equally opportunity employer.
Office of the Ombudsman
The Ombudsman examines complaints about failures by public service providers to provide accessible buildings, services and information, as required under Part 3 of the Disability Act 2005.
As an oversight body, the Office of the Ombudsman is less involved with developing public policy, rather ensuring high standards of fairness in policy developed by other public bodies. Because of this, where the issue of disability impact assessment mainly arises is (i) in relation to the complaint mechanisms the Office provides to the public and (ii) in relation to how the office promote and have oversight of equality of access in other organisations.
The Office has an appointed Access Officer in line with Section 26(2) of the Disability Act 2005. The Access Officer is responsible for providing, arranging or co-ordinating assistance to persons with disabilities who wish to access the services provided by the Office. They also act as a point of contact for persons with disabilities who wish to access such services. In carrying out their duties, the Access Officer reports to the Equality and Diversity Officer, the Public Sector Duty Committee and the Head of Corporate Services. The Access Officer is responsible for ensuring access to services at all time that are in line with the provisions of the Disability Act.
The State Laboratory has not been required to carry out a disability impact assessment as it does not submit substantive policy proposals requiring Government approval and which can have an impact on the wider/ public community.
Office of the National Lottery Regulator (ORNL)
The role of the Office of the Regulator of the National Lottery (ORNL) is to procure and regulate the holding of the Irish National Lottery. As such, it does not provide any services directly to the public, or prepare any policies or practices that impact directly on the public in general or on people with disabilities.