A Guaranteed Interview with the Intelligence Services
A loophole too far?
Is it best to ignore an issue simply because that's the way it is and has always been? When it comes to the intelligence services, most certainly not. So, that being the case, how can someone with a British Passport or even dual citizenship (as long as a parent has British Citizenship) guarantee themselves an interview at least?
Is highlighting issues such as this tantamount to treason, or is it simply a case of pointing out something blindingly obvious which needs addressing? Something which might, just might, actually allow an important machine, such as the SIS recruitment process, to operate a little more smoothly and achieve its objective of attracting the right, highest calibre candidates through its doors? I wager the latter. At least one hopes so.
So, how does the Equality Act 2010 and its impact on the Guaranteed Interview Scheme (GIS) which is designed for those people with disabilities, actually or potentially, hinder the process? The second question to consider is, if it does hinder the process then is it acceptable given the constraints put upon them by the laws on equality versus the burden on resources?
As part of the MI5 recruitment process for example, there is much more of an emphasis on adhering to the law on equality and recruitment than perhaps some of its non-governmental counterparts. The questions are fairly standard in most of these organisations and they make it explicit they have to ask certain questions during the process. As an example;
Do you have a disability (as defined by the Equality Act 2010)?*
Select: Yes No Prefer not to say
As a "Disability Confident" employer, we have a Guaranteed Interview Scheme (GIS). This means that we guarantee an interview to all candidates with a disability who meet our minimum criteria for the job vacancy.
If you have a disability (as defined by the Equality Act 2010), do you wish to apply under the GIS?*
Select: Yes No
Please note that the Guaranteed Interview Scheme is available to disabled candidates only. Regrettably, any false declaration of disability in order to secure an interview will impact on your overall application.
All pretty prescribed and standard questions found in any organisation such as this. The abuse of course is in the definition of disability which, according to the Legislative Guidance notes accompanying the 2010 Act itself, is open to interpretation maybe a little too much. It is important to say here that this is no ground breaking revelation and of course policy makers will have factored in the potential for abuse....hence the warning that it could invalidate the application. As far as we are aware, there is no easily accessible data on the 'cost to the system' of such abuse, both public or private. It is safe to say however that abuse, which is bound to happen, must have a quantifiable cost as well as an 'opportunity cost'. If a GP's surgery can tell us the cost today of non attended patient appointments is X, then we certainly have the capability to gather the data. If it is available, and you have it, we welcome the input. For the sake of this article, which is of course by no means scholarly, we assume there are indeed such costs. So what are they?
To illustrate this further, take the example of one possible definition of disability as defined in the Act which is also tried and tested in actual cases.
Addictions to alcohol, nicotine or addiction to any other substances (except where the addiction originally resulted from the administration of medically prescribed drugs) are specifically excluded from the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010. However, illnesses caused by an addiction may be covered – e.g. depression or liver damage caused by alcohol addiction – or where the addiction is a symptom or side-effect of some other medical condition.
We believe the intention of an Act such as this is to limit the scope for abuse by limiting those groups of people who could conceivably classify themselves as disabled. In reality however, it could be argued the opposite is true. In this example, there are obvious questions raised. How does one prove an addiction? Does it have to be certified to some degree such as a GP record or a letter from a private consultant? Think about it. It's not that difficult to fabricate is it? Go to your GP two months before applying. Tell them you drink a bottle of Gin a day and have done for months. Wait for them to tell you the blindingly obvious diagnosis (maybe have your 'bloods' taken, although not actually required), get some basic medication such as a beta blocker or some Diazepam and bang, away you go with a referral letter to see a specialist. Now go and wave that in front of a recruiter and say this (for example);
".....I have been an alcoholic and was for many years and only recently got it diagnosed because I was too ashamed to get it treated [a tear at this point might be an act too far at this stage]. I got some help though and saw my GP [AS EVIDENCED BY MY LETTER] and have been 'clean' now for some time. Feel free to go ahead and get me tested and you'll see there is no trace of alcohol abuse at all....The problem is that since then I have been suffering from acute depression* and anxiety...."
*At the end of this article is Section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 which details some of the factors that must be satisfied in order to classify someone as having a disability. To paraphrase, it is someone who can say they a suffering from a "mental impairment" and although one would assume this impairment should have had long term effects, it is then that definition ie. 'long-term' which one could argue is still ambiguous and therefore potentially an area in the legislation open to manipulation. Therefore the depression (or some other possible conditions not mentioned here) could legitimately be classified as a disability which was caused by an addiction to alcohol. At the very worst, it would require a one-off trip to the GP again to have them write you a letter (anything to get you out of their surgery to hit waiting time targets), or at the worst, another referral for depression this time. So, the likelihood is that in this case, depression could be classified as a disability.
To focus a little more on the definitions and how they are interpreted in case law (wriggle room), the following conditions would have to be met:
Does the worker have a physical or mental impairment?
Yes. The person has been an alcoholic and is suffering from depression and this is verified.
Does that impairment have a negative impact on the worker’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities?
Yes. Depression, anxiety and side effects such as lack of energy and even stress induced pain could be documented.
Is the negative impact substantial?
Define "substantial". The candidate attending the interview would argue Yes.
Is the impact long term (i.e. likely to continue for a year or more)?
Still potential ambiguity. HAS it been continuing for a year? or is it LIKELY to continue for a year or more? Here lies the crux of the matter.
Lets examine this from a common sense angle and the most likely scenario. When you tick the boxes on the application form to say you would like to qualify as having a disability under the GIS, then that is exactly what you are doing. The burden of proof is really on the potential employer, not you at this stage. If suspicions are raised, then unless rigorous checks are made and accompanied by a clearly defined "politically correct" process, you would continue in the process. This of course only covers you up to the point of interview, at which point the employer use numerous reasons for not putting you through. The reality is that in many recruitment processes, the time it takes from start to finish can range from a few months to over a year. So, if you have got to the interview via the GIS and should you then proceed, then get working on those ailments. By the time the recruiters ask for even more detailed evidence, you may well be in the job. In reality, just having the documentation you already have would make things hard to disprove. Also, as we explain below, if enough mud is thrown then some of it could just stick and coupled with the fact this is not the only 'route to market', now it gets concerning.
So to recap. In this example (which is one of literally dozens that could easily be used), you have admitted an addiction. You have stated you are cured and this can be verified by testing (assuming you're not actually an alcoholic of course, in which case, you're screwed). What you do next is to admit that you suffer from depression and have had some concerns over your heart rate. It would be up to your own specific health and individual circumstances how far you played this, but if in doubt, depression will suffice. According to the Act and the guidance outlined in its legislative notes and those of specialists within the field, you have an "illness caused by an addiction". As such this may be covered. Even if there were cases where this was disputed by a potential employer, one could easily push this and simply employ the nowadays oft used ancient art of "playing dumb" (personally a preferred option of mine...well they do say a good lie is one closest to the truth). You simply assert with conviction that you thought that as per the following lines of the Act (said whilst thrusting a laminated sheet of the Act in front of the recruiter), it said you were disabled. If it is not questioned, and the recruiter accepts the doctors note, then what can they do? Of course, the obvious answer is that they will simply reject you at the next stage of the process and away you go. At least you had a day out, and maybe got to admire the lovely yet stern 'Imperial Neoclassical' architecture of Baines's Security Services building. Joking aside, at what cost to the system?
This is just one example of an alarmingly large number of scenarios where the Act can be abused and where candidates could easily 'piggy back' on the PC kindness of our legislation to either create a bottleneck in the system of sorts, or worse, get further in the process. If was that way inclined, and had the perseverance to stress test this, I suspect it would be simpler than one might expect. Is that narcissistic arrogance? Possibly. But as with other loopholes already highlighted by this site in the recruitment process, if it can be done, what is to stop those with sinister intentions doing something that actually warrants a second look? It is that fear that motivates the writer, not simple arrogance. There are also several other areas of the Act where the definition of 'disability' can be stretched to suit the wannabee interviewee.
So, to sum up. The process as prescribed to a large extent by 2010 legislation is well meaning and intended to accommodate all parts of Government. As with most systems however, there are loop holes and there is always a cost of some sort caused by those who decide to take advantage of those loopholes. However, what if the costs of a more liberal, politically correct society actually affects national security or the 'machines' ability to successfully identify our next protectors. By protectors, we do not simply mean the Intelligence Officers of this world, but those who operate even more in the shadows to a certain extent, for example Trades and Services, the Administrative functions, the 'number crunchers' and a whole universe of people whose professional life is dedicated not to political or religious ideology, but the enforcement of basic right and wrong. Finding those people is surely more difficult when a system has potential hurdles such as these. Even worse however is the potential gateway into an organisation that we hope has mechanisms in place to spot these methods and administer a solution. If those who pose a threat to National Security were to simply throw numbers at this system, then statistically it is highly likely someone has to get through. If a fox spends enough time prodding at the wire mesh, eventually it will get through and snag a chicken. Or is that overly pessimistic? Time will tell, but so far, a relatively cursory examination of the recruitment process has resulted in us spotting several areas of weakness both in testing (we have proven it can be skewed in ones favour in other parts of the site), as well as the interview process itself. We are therefore left to ponder therefore, what more weaknesses are there?
One final note. This is simply one opinion expressed here. We do not advocate adopting these methods of course. Recruiters in the Intelligence Services value honesty and integrity and of course there will be mechanisms in place to identify weaknesses. So the purpose is not to cause concern as such, but to highlight areas where they might wish to focus on improvement. Just a thought. As far as the recruitment process is concerned, yes there are ways to easily progress to the next stages of the process by devious means, but ultimately it depends on your intentions. If it is to secure a legitimate role within the IC, then play the game by their rules. Other areas on this site provide useful tips on how to achieve this and will hopefully assist candidates in developing methods of their own to give them a fighting chance in the process. Good luck.
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Equality Act 2010
2010 c. 15 - Part 2 - Chapter 1
(1) A person (P) has a disability if—
(a) P has a physical or mental impairment, and
(b) the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on P's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
(2) A reference to a disabled person is a reference to a person who has a disability.
(3) In relation to the protected characteristic of disability—
(a ) a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a person who has a particular disability;
(b) a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to persons who have the same disability.
(4) This Act (except Part 12 and section 190) applies in relation to a person who has had a disability as it applies in relation to a person who has the disability; accordingly (except in that Part and that section)—
(a) a reference (however expressed) to a person who has a disability includes a reference to a person who has had the disability, and
(b) a reference (however expressed) to a person who does not have a disability includes a reference to a person who has not had the disability.
(5) A Minister of the Crown may issue guidance about matters to be taken into account in deciding any question for the purposes of subsection (1).
(6) Schedule 1 (disability: supplementary provision) has effect.
To read a copy of the 2010 Equality Act, click here.