Health standards for practitioners entering social work must be scrapped as they are frequently leading to “discriminatory attitudes, policies and practices” against disabled people, the Disability Rights Commission has warned.
The watchdog also called for employers to stop questioning job applicants about their health as this could be discriminatory, pointing to the low representation of disabled people within social work, nursing and teaching.
The DRC blamed an unfounded association between disability, particularly mental health problems, and risk to the public, for legislation mandating UK professional regulators to operate health standards across the three professions.
Director of policy and communications Agnes Fletcher said: “We didn’t find any concrete instances of the public being put at risk due to a health condition.”
The 12-month study was inspired by cases such as that of Peter Van der Gucht, a social worker with bipolar affective disorder, who successfully challenged conditions imposed on his registration by the General Social Care Council.
According to the GSCC’s figures, 1.95% of qualified social workers were disabled in 2006, though in Scotland the absence of health standards had not appeared to have had a marked effect on numbers, with just 2.4% of registered social workers being disabled in 2005.
Fletcher said that while the DRC had not specifically examined the impact on users of the under-representation of disabled practitioners, she said submissions to the review suggested having a disabled social worker made a “huge difference”.