Black civil servant handed six-figure payout amid warning of ‘systemic’ race issues in Whitehall

Exclusive: Deputy cabinet secretary raised questions over Cabinet Office approach

Nadine White
Race Correspondent
Saturday 05 February 2022 11:43
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Black civil servant handed six-figure payout over Whitehall 'race discrimination'

A Black civil servant was handed a six-figure settlement by the government over allegations of racial discrimination in Whitehall, with the deputy cabinet secretary warning that there was a “systemic issue” in the Cabinet Office, The Independent can reveal.

Kay Badu, 36, said he had been subjected to bullying at the hands of white managers over the course of three years in the Cabinet Office, which left him with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. At one stage, he contemplated suicide.

Mr Badu, who joined the Government Digital Service in 2018 as an executive assistant, said he was held back from promotion, that a manager had used the n-word, and that he had been asked in front of colleagues: “Why do some Black people play the race card when they get into trouble?” After raising complaints, Mr Badu later found himself the subject of an investigation.

Prompted by Mr Badu’s case, Dame Helen Macnamara wrote to Alex Chisholm, the Cabinet Office permanent secretary, raising concerns about the handling of race issues in the department, which describes itself as “the centre of the UK government”.

In the March 2021 letter, included in Mr Badu’s employment tribunal claim submission, Dame Helen wrote: “There is a striking absence of compassion in the way Kay was dealt with from the beginning, including the way that the organisation responded to the event where Kay told people that he had been contemplating suicide.

“The grievances have allowed what has happened to be interpreted as a disagreement between individuals rather than a systemic issue.

“Having heard a number of testimonies over the last year in particular, I think there is a proper question to ask about how [the Cabinet Office] deals with race at a systemic level. That is not about individuals (although individual behaviour could also be problematic); it is about whether the Cabinet Office is demonstrating it is listening to people raising these concerns and taking action to change.”

The former employee said he had been subjected to bullying at the hands of white managers for years

In an email to another colleague, Dame Helen, previously the department’s director-general for propriety and ethics, warned that elements of the investigation into Mr Badu could be seen to be “racially biased”.

Mr Badu left his role last year and started proceedings at an employment tribunal before the Cabinet Office agreed to settle his case for a six-figure amount. The department told The Independent it did not admit any liability and does not accept a number of the claims which have been made.

Mr Badu said that those responsible for discrimination against him had not been punished and instead continued to hold managerial positions within the civil service.

“The entire ordeal has been emotionally draining, absolutely exhausting,” Mr Badu said.

“There were times I was getting very little sleep. I was not seeing my friends. I was becoming a recluse, basically. My health was deteriorating and I was eating junk food. I had suicidal thoughts which is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”

According to documents included in his employment tribunal bundle, the discrimination began soon after Mr Badu began working in the Cabinet Office in March 2018, with managers making comments about playing the “race card” and suggesting it was “easy to get rid of people like [Mr Badu]”.

Claim submissions outline how he raised complaints regarding one manager who was heard saying: “My husband listens to [n-word] music.” Another said that Black people did not get top jobs in Whitehall because they were not intelligent enough. Mr Badu was also told by a manager to be careful around one colleague on the basis that she had previously been attacked by a Black man.

Mr Badu complained to HR and senior staff but said nothing was done until he spoke out at a staff meeting and raised concerns with the Cabinet Office’s then chief operating officer.

From the point at which he blew the whistle, Mr Badu said he became “public enemy number one” to managers, whom he said fabricated disciplinary action and carried out a campaign of hostile treatment. Internal investigators found that disciplinary action should not have taken place.

After Mr Badu submitted his case to an employment tribunal, the Cabinet Office reached a settlement with him in September 2021. Mr Badu left his role at Government Digital Services, which has 800 employees, in the same month. At that stage, he said, he was suffering from depression, anxiety and insomnia, while an occupational health assessment found a high score on a post-traumatic stress disorder scale. He is still receiving counselling.

He said: “I would classify myself as a survivor of the Cabinet Office; if you’re Black or Asian, that’s what you do. You don’t go to work to thrive – you survive.

“The situation will never change within the Cabinet Office until you have permanent secretaries that come from Black, Asian, minority ethnic backgrounds.

“We enter the civil service with jet black hair and hope. We leave with grey hair and broken hearts.”

Mr Badu said he would class himself as a ‘survivor’ of the Cabinet Office

Statistics published by the Institute for Government this month found that only 11 per cent of senior civil servants were from minority backgrounds, compared with 13 per cent of the economically active population.

Meanwhile, non-white graduates are less likely to be accepted onto the civil service’s “fast stream” programme.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said: “We condemn racism and bullying in all forms and there are strict measures in place within the Cabinet Office to make sure effective action is taken if complaints are raised.”

In December, it emerged that a Black civil servant had reportedly tried to take their own life after “prolonged racial bullying” in a government department.

Earlier this year, the PCS union, which represents government employees, said it was considering taking concerns to the Equality and Human Rights Commission after more than 80 staff members in the civil service had complained about being racially bullied.

Mr Badu is now calling for an investigation into the Cabinet Office by the Commons’ Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

He said: “Yes, I settled but I’ve lost a career haven’t I? Essentially, working in the civil service, the cabinet office, is a job for life, and I’ve had to leave while the culprits are still there, walking around.

“The Cabinet Office almost cost me my life. Why are perpetrators of bullying and racism still in post and being paid taxpayers’ money?”

Mr Badu added: “How many generations have to go through this? My mum was racially abused at work. I was racially abused at work. So when I have kids... are they going to be racially abused at work as well? When is this going to stop?”

This article was amended on 8 February 2022 to include the Cabinet Office’s position that it did not accept a number of the claims that have been made.

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