To mark today’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) Andy Start, CEO of Capita Government Services and Executive Committee sponsor of the Capita Ability Network (CAN) spoke to Damian Riley, Managing Director & Client Partner for Capita’s Education Sector, Chair of CAN, and registered disabled, to discuss the importance of disability inclusivity.

Damian Riley: I’d like to kick off the conversation by asking why you feel that disability inclusivity is so important, Andy?

Andy Start: Nearly a fifth of the working age population of the UK has a disability. We want to attract and retain talent from the largest pool possible that also reflects the diversity of our client-base and the customers they serve. It makes business sense to recognise and tackle those barriers faced by people with disabilities as well, of course, as being the right thing to do.

Capita is committed to being a responsible business and one of our areas of focus is to support the Government’s goal of increasing the number of disabled people in work by a million by 2027, as well as to reduce the employment gap rate with non-disabled people. We’re working hard to build an inclusive environment and ensure diversity across our 60,000 people-strong workforce.

Damian Riley: Capita’s commitment to disability inclusivity is really gaining momentum. Can you share some examples of how we’re showing our commitment?

Andy Start: We know that disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people. To help close the gap, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched the Disability Confident Scheme. Capita has signed up to the scheme which encourages employers to be positive about the skills that people with disability can bring to businesses and, importantly, remove the barriers to recruiting and retaining them.

Our Personal Independence Business, which supports hundreds of thousands of people with long-term health conditions or a disability through our work for the Department of Work and Pensions, has led the way on disability inclusivity in Capita. It has implemented a raft of measures across recruitment, working arrangements and employee training to become a Disability Confident Leader. I’m proud it has been awarded the highest status as ‘Leader’. Less than 350 UK businesses have achieved this level, and they have inspired the rest of Capita to become a truly disability inclusive employer.

Becoming Disability Confident is just one way to demonstrate we are serious about equal opportunities for disabled people, but we know there is more we can do.

The pandemic has sharpened the focus on the challenges people with hidden disabilities face – we have read frightening stories of ‘mask rage’ where members of the public have demonstrated a lack of understanding or empathy with people who are legally exempt from wearing a mask. As part of our celebration of this year’s International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPD) on 3 December, we’re promoting The Sunflower Scheme which is a fantastic initiative to support people with hidden disabilities.

In addition, we’re taking the opportunity to encourage colleagues to make their disabilities known to us as an organisation. We need to improve our understanding of our workforce by encouraging colleagues to share information about themselves. If we know how many colleagues consider themselves to have a disability, we can understand where we need to take positive action and provide more support.

This year we’ve established the Capita Ability Network, which is an employee network you chair, Damian. Can you share more information about the network and the role it plays in supporting disability inclusion? 

Damian Riley: Earlier this year, Capita set up Employee Network Groups as part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Each network is sponsored by two members of the Executive Committee and they play an important role in encouraging and supporting all employees to bring their whole self to work. Networks greatly contribute to creating inclusive environments and building a sense of community, as they help facilitate employee engagement and meaningful dialogue about diversity and inclusion at work.

From a personal perspective, I have always been a massive advocate for the power of networks to drive positive organisational change and earlier this year I became chair of the Capita Ability Network (CAN). Following a life-threatening cycling accident in June 2019 in which I suffered a cervical spinal cord injury, I am now disabled. I am tetraplegic, which means I have impairments in all four limbs, as well as changes in my bladder and bowel function.

I spent five months in hospital and am still in rehabilitation today - and I expect to be for many years to come. Recovery from spinal injury is a lifetime endeavour, and my disability will affect me in many ways for the rest of my life. The physical effects of my disability are profound. Prior to my accident, I was fit and an active rock-climber and triathlete. Having spent many months in a wheelchair, I can now walk with crutches but am limited to short distances and move quite slowly. Impairments to my hands mean day to day tasks I took for granted – like tying shoelaces – are now difficult and time consuming.

The effects of disability on mental health are equally profound. I have experienced some exceptionally dark days over the past 18 months, and I have had to dig deep into my emotional and psychological resources to maintain a positive and optimistic outlook about the future.

However, I want to challenge the lazy narrative that those of us with disabilities are victims deserving of sympathy. During my stay in hospital I met a group of amazing, determined, funny, clever people who have enriched my life and will remain lifelong friends. Through my recovery I have achieved and learnt things about myself and my resilience that put previous achievements in the shade. I have learnt to accept bad days and focus on the future and the further recovery I can achieve with the support of family and friends.

Andy Start: Thank you for sharing such a personal story, Damian. I know we are encouraging colleagues in Capita to share their own experiences on IDPD to start the process of removing the stigma of having a disability and I am sure this will help hugely. I am interested to learn about your experience of recovery and what helped you the most. 

Damian Riley: One of my key recovery goals was to return to my role in Capita. I was delighted to re-join the business in early 2020 in a more senior role.  I have always considered work to be an important expression of contribution, an outlet for creativity, and a source of companionship.

My personal experience of the support from Capita and my colleagues has been consistently outstanding, from my time in hospital to this very day. Since returning to work, I have benefited from a huge amount of flexibility and adjustments to my working arrangements. This has enabled me to make a full contribution as a member of the Government Services Senior Leadership Team.

However, I am equally aware that not everyone in Capita is as fortunate as I am, and we have some way to go as a business to deliver on our objective to create better outcomes for all employees with a disability. So that is why CAN has been established for all employees affected by disability, including those with disabilities, as well as those who work with disabled colleagues or are affected by disability in their personal or professional lives. Our kick-off meeting had over 100 people coming together to discuss our aims, objectives and priorities for the next six months which include:

  • Encouraging colleagues to share their disability information
  • Establishing regular communications to build the network and maximise the reach of our work across Capita
  • Providing a forum to support the design, testing and delivery of corporate efforts to introduce practical improvements for employees affected by disability
  • Driving more effective recruitment and retention, and creating better outcomes for our people.

As Chair, I am excited to lead and support this network to grow, flourish, and be a positive force for change. I also hope that by sharing my personal story, and encouraging others to do so, we can tackle the stigma too often associated with disability and contribute to a culture where people feel able to bring their whole selves to work.

Andy Start: I am delighted to sponsor and contribute to CAN and look forward to seeing the positive impact the network has on colleagues in the coming weeks and months.

Our experts

Capita's Andy Start

Andy Start

Chief Executive Officer, Government Services

Andy leads the division which is a strategic partner to government in the application of digital transformation to improve the productivity of operations and to help deliver essential services to millions of customers.


Capita's Damian Riley

Damian Riley

Managing Director, Capita Education

Damian is Capita's client partner and managing director for education services. Previously he held a variety of senior leadership roles, including managing director of our Personal Independence Payments service, and chief operating officer of Capita Transformation. Damian has a 20 year career background in the delivery of complex transformation programmes.


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