Charity to take action following report into racism and bullying allegations

Versus Arthritis has pledged to take action after the publication of a report following allegations of racism and bullying at the charity.

From this month an action plan on diversity and inclusion is being implemented by the charity.

A review carried out by human resources firm Tell Jane looked at four allegations of racism and ten of bullying.

Of the allegations related to race, just one had been investigated in any substantial way by Tell Jane. One was only partially investigated due to staff abscence, one was abandoned due to a reluctance of staff to take part and one failed due to a “lack of information on participants and how to progress”.

Tell Jane said in its review of allegations of racism: "Versus Arthritis was correct in the decision to escalate these matters externally due to the potential serious and historic nature of the claims and the lack of trust in the HR team and the internal escalation process.

"Of the four incidents related to race, there was only one investigated in any substantial way. It has therefore been difficult to draw firm conclusions and to make a balance of probabilities decision. It’s important to note that the impact of microaggressions is that people who experience them are often left feeling powerless and afraid to speak out... (this) could also be a reason for lack of engagement or trust in the process."

Among allegations of bullying Tell Jane found that allegations had been partially upheld in one case, which is now subject to the charity’s grievance and disciplinary procedures.

Improvements in tackling bullying recommended include “improving line manager capability”.

In addition, Versus Arthritis needs to improve staff “understanding of what represents bullying, its impact and how to raise concerns”. A charity policy and procedure specially focusing on bullying is needed, Tell Jane added.

Tell Jane also found a 'lack of trust' in the past in the charity’s human resources team “and while significant improvements have been made, for some colleagues this lack of trust may continue and there is a need to further improve HR processes, practice and knowledge”.

The charity has pledged further training and resources for staff and volunteers “on inclusive culture and anti-racism”.

“We will also increase our understanding of how racism affects people with arthritis and make sure that everything we do to support, campaign and research for people with arthritis recognises the different, compounded experience of discrimination and arthritis,” added the charity.

All current allegations will be completed and followed up with support for victims. A development plan for HR is also to be carried out, a bullying policy is being developed and the charity is to commission a review into the way its leadership and governance responds to allegations.

“We want all our people to feel confident and comfortable at work, and able to raise their voices and be listened to,” said Versus Arthritis acting chief executive Ellen Miller.

“We’re trying to face these issues with humility, honesty and compassion. Humility because the lived experience of our people is essential to creating an equal and inclusive culture at Versus Arthritis. Honesty about where we are now, because this is the critical foundation on which trust and confidence can be restored. And compassion because we need to demonstrate understanding and support to all our people.

She added: “We want a more diverse board and leadership group, and we’re working with external experts to achieve this. A review will be commissioned to look into the way that our leaders handled the issues and ensure that we learn from it.

“It has been a challenging period for us all at the charity and we have to do more to become truly inclusive and anti-racist.

“I respect and appreciate the courage of our colleagues in sharing their experiences. We will become a stronger organisation as a result, and better able to serve the needs of all people with arthritis.”

The review follows Versus Arthritis referring itself to the Charity Commission over the reports of racism and bullying last November.

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