We must all support each other

I cannot find the words to describe yesterday’s events. Tragic. Brave. Heroic. No single word or phrase feels powerful enough to condemn the ‘terror’ or to honour those who lost their lives.

I am currently working at the Home Office, literally just around the corner from where the events took place. I knew nothing of what happened until my wife called me in a panic to check I was OK. I was OK because I was incredibly lucky to be sat in an office, unlike our truly courageous colleagues on duty outside of Westminster Palace yesterday.

As time has passed since 3pm yesterday when I first became aware, I have already gone through a mix of emotions. Surprise. Sadness. Realisation. Guilt.

Surprise is obvious. Although we all knew the risks that an attack may happen, you can never truly be prepared emotionally for when it actually does. No amount of training or rehearsal can prepare a person emotionally for something like that. This is why the response from the officers and emergency services involved was truly amazing. You can never presume to know what it was like to walk in their shoes yesterday.

Sadness for all those who lost their lives, those who have been seriously injured and those who mentally will continue to re-live what they saw for days, weeks and even years later. For some, the feelings they experienced, the sights they saw will never ever leave them. Even the most resilient will struggle with this.

Sadness for PC Keith Palmer, his family, his friends and his colleagues. But also the greatest of respect. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for serving the Queen, MPs, you and I.

Realisation. Since May last year when I started my secondment, I have walked past the location of yesterday’s events many, many times. Even at that exact time of day.

Guilt, because I wasn’t far away yesterday. I could have been there to help. I am under no illusion, I would not have been able to impact on what happened, but I could have been there to help in some way no matter how small. After all, as police officers it is our duty.

As I write this article I experience all of these emotions. If this is how I feel, then I am sure many of you will experience similar emotions for your own reasons. Whilst our thoughts will be about Keith Palmer, his family, and everyone else fatally or catastrophically injured; it is not wrong to also take a moment to think about how you are feeling. How your colleagues might be feeling. I didn’t personally know Keith and you may not have either, but we are one police family, so we may feel we did know him. When one of us hurts, we all hurt.

I know 100% that police officers around the country, even the world, will rally around to support PC Keith Palmer’s family in anyway they can. This is what family does.

The true intent of this article however, is about you and the entire police family. When everyone hurts, some hurt more than others. Some are more resilient than others. Some feel a personal connection more than others. Some suffer more openly than others. Some suffer in silence more than others.

Whether it is today, tomorrow, next week or next year; please look out for your colleagues. Look for those who are suffering, those struggling to come to terms with yesterdays events and any other event you encounter on a daily basis as part of your job, your profession. Talk to one another. Support one another. Be there for each other. Seek help if you need it. Show someone the way to help if they need it.

We are all part of the police family. Now more than ever we must be strong together and look after each other.

If you or someone you know is in need of support or someone to talk to, there are a plethora of options available to you. Here are just a few:

* Your GP
* Occupational Health
* TRiM advisor
* MIND Blue light (helpline 0300 303 5999)
* The Samaritans
* Charities such as Police Dependants’ Trust, Call4Backup, PTSD999 and more
* Police Federation of England and Wales
* Staff support associations
* Your family, friends and colleagues

There are many other avenues of support. The above in not an exhaustive list and the DPA does not officially endorse any of the services above.

Jamie Mills
General Secretary

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Access To Work – not just desks, chairs and ramps

The Access To Work scheme (ATW) from the Department for Work and Pensions is a little known, under-used entity in policing, but it is actually incredibly powerful for keeping disabled officers and staff in work.

The Government-funded scheme aims to assist employees and employers by providing practical advice and support to help overcome disability-related workplace barriers. It can also provide grants towards extra employment costs beyond ‘reasonable adjustment’, such as physical adjustments to the working environment.

My personal experience is that this scheme is often misunderstood and under-used, especially in policing. Those supervisors, managers and leaders who know of the scheme, often know very little about how it actually works.

For example, I have seen several people advised by their managers to contact ATW when the word ‘disability’ starts to arise during management conversations. Other than the suggestion to contact ATW, there is then very little interaction on the subject from the manager. Although it is the employee that must self-refer to the scheme, by no means should the involvement of the manager cease at that point, after all, it is the line manager who will continue to manage the person and to some degree their impairment (or the effects of) in the workplace.

Once the individual has self-referred to ATW, an assessment will be arranged with an independent assessor employed by ATW, who will visit the individual in the work place to assess their needs in terms of adjustments to overcome barriers at work.

In policing, I most often see this scheme used for people who might require an ‘ergonomic assessment’ of their workspace, such as their work station including their desk, chair and access needs. This normally results in recommendations for specific adjustable office equipment, which provides better ergonomic support.

This is a good and proactive use of the scheme, but its limits are not defined merely by desks, chairs and ramps.

I recently met with Stuart Edwards, the ATW Strategy Lead at the DWP, to talk about what else the scheme can offer for policing and the emergency services.

Stuart stated, “The scheme is capped at £41,000 in grants per person per year for work place support.”

He went on to talk about the current service distribution of the scheme, “Just less than a third of the budget is spent on transportation, such as taxis for those who cannot get themselves to work. Just less than a third is also spent on British Sign Language interpreters, with the remaining third spent on support workers (e.g. job coaches and social care). The small remaining proportion of budget is generally spent on physical equipment (e.g. workplace adaptations) and mental ill health support.”

Immediately we can see that ‘desks and chairs’ are a very small proportion of the support that ATW provide. I have previously blogged on the mental ill health support which is provided by Remploy, so I probed this a little further with Stuart.

“The mental ill health support does not have to involve the employer,” he stated. “This support can take place whilst preparing to return to the workplace, remotely, or with the support of your employer in the work place.”

Having assisted a vast number of officers and staff in policing who are seeking adjustments other than chairs and desks, I have found one of the greatest challenges to be the acceptance of decision makers to trust in the adjustments the individual is asking for.

An example of this being where I have assisted people with conditions such as ME, fibromyalgia and other fatigue-inducing conditions; where the individual is trying to find a manageable working pattern to allow them to continue working, juggling family life and providing enough time for much needed rest. Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of suspicion from decision makers when the request involves things such as working closer to home, compressing hours or changing working patterns. It often appears that the decision maker is thinking that someone is trying to ‘pull the wool over their eyes’. Even when I have assisted in mediating such discussions, the mere fact that I have been asked by the individual to assist them, often raises suspicion further.

I appreciate that a small minority of people can use certain situations to their advantage; this is natural and is part of human nature. However, on the most part, honesty and integrity is also a part of human nature, especially so in the police service.

I also appreciate that it can be very difficult for someone who does not have an impairment to completely empathise with someone who does. As a sufferer of fatigue myself, I know how truly frustrating it is for people to confuse ‘fatigue’ and general ‘tiredness’. Imagine you have run a marathon or you are jet-lagged after flying home from the USA. Imagine how that would feel. Now imagine feeling like that all of the time. Imagine going to bed, waking up and feeling worse than when you went to bed – every single day. That is fatigue.

I digress.

So my point is this – it can often be a really hard time for an individual to convince a decision maker that they are being genuine and really do need those adjustments, even if it just on a trial basis. I think the problem lies in the Command and Control nature of policing. The strict rank structure and top-down pyramid approach. In general, my observation is that those who are more senior find it difficult to completely accept what a subordinate is asking for when seeking reasonable adjustment. This is a natural mind set given the nature of policing, rank structure and having to balance business need with personal need. It can seem like a hard decision to make.

In fact, the decision to provide such adjustments is easy and makes perfect business sense. Providing the most conducive working conditions for someone with an impairment or long-term health condition will enable you to get the very best from that person.

We could make things much easier, less stressful and more workable for the individual if their needs were just taken on face value, with careful monitoring and review taking place thereafter to ensure the continued appropriateness of the adjustments.

I know this is a difficult mindset to change. This is where I believe the access to work scheme can help.

Expert opinion trumps personal opinion

I explained this scenario to Stuart and asked if this was something that ATW could assist with, asking if the work place assessments could include recommendation on other adjustments such as working pattern and distance of travel etc. Much to my delight, Stuart confirmed the scheme could be used in this way, especially as ATW is increasing in capacity over the coming months.

Therefore my recommendation is this:

When considering any form of reasonable adjustment requirements, seek the advice of external experts such as the ATW scheme. It is at no cost to the employee or employer.

Expert advice will provide strong evidence of the need for the adjustment and may even be able to suggest other alternatives you have not previously considered.

Remember – Access To Work is not just about desks, chairs and ramps, it is about all forms of workplace adjustment.

Jamie Mills
General Secretary

This article has been written based on personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of the Disabled Police Association.

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The power of police disabled employee support networks

In the private sector, employee support networks have gained a lot of traction as a resource that is being valued highly for its positive contributions by major banks and other areas of industry, often supplementing the professional support of HR departments.

Employee support networks are a huge asset to policing too, for many many reasons, but there is just one I am going to focus on in this article: The power of Peer support.

Disabled officers and staff, those caring for family, even those who just have a friend or family member who have a disability or an illness are welcome to join a disability support network in their force. All have much to benefit from disability support networks locally and nationally.

In difficult times most of us will struggle to find someone who truly understands what we are going through. Family and friends can be a huge help, supportive and comforting, but often they don’t truly get where you are coming from. This is not their fault, policing is such a unique profession and when you mix in the need to manage a disability, you can see how hard it is for them to truly understand your position.

There are now many support groups on line, especially on social networking sites, which offer group support for specific conditions or disabilities. These are great – but there aren’t many people there who understand what it is like to be a police officer and have a disability.

This is where disability support networks truly benefit policing. Offering advice, raising awareness, peer support and even mediation with the employer, resolving issues in the workplace quickly and to mutual benefit to both employee and employer. This ensures the needs of both are considered, in turn improving the service given to the public.

So why is it some forces do not have a disability support network?

Recently I became aware of an inspirational example to illustrate the very benefits of disability support networks for policing:

Officer X emails the Disabled Police Association a few months ago seeking some advice and support as he is currently off of work due to illness. Unfortunately there is no disability support network in officer X’s force.

The DPA circulated a request for assistance throughout the force networks and so came back an offer of assistance from a neighbouring force – officer Y.

To date officer Y has spent in excess of 50 hours providing telephone support to officer X and sending numerous emails in his own time.

Officer Y even booked a days annual leave to attend officer X’s force to provide support in person at an arranged meeting.

The matters involved are now being resolved following the meeting and officer X has been reassured and feels fairly treated. This is likely to speed up his return to work.

This is just one of the many examples which take place daily where members of (voluntary) disability support networks go above and beyond to support their colleagues. The contribution may not seem much, but when you total up the time spent giving one to one support, you realise just how much of a positive impact this will have had on officer Y’s morale and confidence in policing and managing their disability.

It is really important that I must also stress that ‘V’ word – ‘Voluntary’.

Whilst some hours of support may be given during duty time, for most, the vast majority of support provided is done so when off duty.

A further example demonstrates the possibilities for improving work force management:

Over the last 18 months I have been contacted by officers with the same physical disability as me, or who are waiting to have their operation. All have wanted support as their Occupational health departments have told them they won’t be on operational duties again. I have been able to provide examples, including my own, where adjustments can be made to allow them to continue to do frontline duties, providing examples of specialist personal protective equipment and where forces can purchase them from. Along with another colleague, we have now set up a closed facebook group for people to share their experiences. Without our networks, these officers would likely continue to be told they cannot do frontline operational duties.

I believe it is vital that Chief Officers support the voluntary contributions of their staff – supporting their staff. My goal is to have a disability support network in every force within the next 18-24 months.

Disability staff networks – Recognise it, reward it and reap the benefits!

Jamie Mills
General Secretary

This article represents the personal opinions of the author and is not the ‘official view’ of the DPA

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