A recent report on the government’s “two ticks” symbol, which is intended to promote equality in employment opportunities for workers with disabilities, has raised serious questions about just how useful the initiative has really been.

Employers are awarded the two ticks symbol if they sign up to five central commitments: interviewing every disabled applicant who meets the minimum criteria for a job vacancy; discussing with disabled staff how they can develop and use the capabilities at least once a year; doing everything possible to help staff stay in work if they become disabled; building disability awareness among staff; and reviewing their progress every year.

Since it was launched in 1990, the two ticks symbol has been awarded to over 8,000 organisations and is particularly popular among top-performing business – some 46 per cent of the top 200 FTSE companies are signed up. But new research from Professor Kim Hoque of Warwick Business School and Nick Bacon of Cass Business School suggests that it has not necessarily delivered on all of its promise.

The study was published in the journal Work, Employment and Society and surveyed trade union disability champions at more than 110 organisations, of which 82 had been awarded the two ticks symbol. It revealed that just 15 per cent of respondents thought their organisations actually adhered to all five of the commitments. In contrast, 18 per cent were not fulfilling any of them.

But what was most common was a rather half-hearted approach to the scheme, with nearly four out of ten organisations keeping just one of their five commitments. According to Professor Hoque, the figures suggest that for many employers, the two ticks symbol is more closely related to good publicity than realistic recruitment and employment practices.

“We found there was no difference in the support and commitment to disabled workers between companies who had the two ticks symbol and those who did not have it,” he explained. “We also found no difference between the public and private sector, if anything the opposite was true.

“It suggests that the symbol may often comprise little more than an ‘empty shell’, where employers display the two ticks for impression management purposes to take advantage of its potential reputational benefits rather than because of a genuine concern for disability issues.”

He added that rules should be introduced to enforce the commitments, rather than allowing firms to essentially self-regulate.

George Selvanera, director of policy, services and communications for the Business Disability Forum, told the Disability News Service that the research is not necessarily representative of the broader working world. After all, 17 out of 20 private sector workplaces with ten or more staff are non-union, meaning they were automatically excluded from the research. Though the research is not conclusive, he said, the two ticks system “lacks teeth, rigour and comprehensiveness”.

The Department for Work and Pensions has accepted that the two ticks symbol is out of date, and is currently working on changes to make the system more effective. It is likely to involve wider publicity, tough assessment criteria and a tiered system of accreditation to reward top-level performance. Whatever form they take, any new measures to help people with disabilities into long-term, sustainable work are surely a positive step.