Former deputy cabinet secretary cited need for Cabinet Office to look at issues of race ‘at a systemic level’
A Black civil servant received a six-figure payout from the Cabinet Office after spending three years at the Government Digital Service, during which he claims he was repeatedly “racially abused” by managers.
Kay Badu joined the digital agency in March 2018 as an executive assistant. He left the organisation last year; his experiences during his tenure at GDS raised serious questions about how the Cabinet Office “deals with race at a systemic level”, according to correspondence between government’s most senior officials.
Revealed by a story in The Independent, Kay Badu told the newspaper that his experience of discrimination and bullying shortly after he started work at GDS.
His claims include:
- Managers alluding to his playing the “race card”
- Suggestions from managers that it was “easy to get rid of people like” him
- That he filed complaints concerning one manager who said: “My husband listens to [n-word] music”
- That another said Black people were not appointed to senior government roles because they were not intelligent enough
- A manager warning him to take care in the presence around a co-worker because the woman in question had been attacked by a Black man in the past
Badu said that complaints made to HR teams and other senior managers fell on deaf ears – until he spoke publicly during a staff meeting.
After which, he was treated as “public enemy number one”, and was subjected to unwarranted disciplinary action that, according to The Independent, an internal investigation found should not have been taken.
Badu submitted his case to an employment tribunal. Included in his submission was a letter sent to Cabinet Office head Alex Chisholm by the former deputy cabinet secretary Dame Helen Macnamara.
“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,” she wrote, in the missive sent a year ago. “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.”
Badu told The Independent that, following his experiences in the civil service, he has suffered from depression and anxiety and continues to receive counselling.
“The entire ordeal has been emotionally draining, absolutely exhausting,” he 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.”
‘A career lost’
Badu accepted a settlement of an unspecified six-figure sum via an agreement through which the Cabinet Office did not make any admission of liability. The department also indicated that it does “not accept a number of the claims which have been made”.
When asked by PublicTechnology which claims in particular these might be, the Cabinet Office said it could not comment further, citing personnel reasons.
It added that it wishes to cultivate “an inclusive and fair workplace” and that it will “continue to learn and improve in order to meet this goal”.
“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. We enter the civil service with jet black hair and hope. We leave with grey hair and broken hearts.”
Kay Badu, former GDS employee
The department pointed to various programmes and policies, such as: an annual campaign, dubbed “Speak Up!”, which “encourages people to raise issues”; other campaigns that aim to promote awareness of what constitutes bullying, harassment, and discrimination; the Civil Service Mediation and Investigation Service; and a special training programme for line managers “which focuses on coaching, giving and receiving feedback and managing inclusive teams”.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson 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.”
Badu said that the department should be investigated by MPs on parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
“Yes, I settled but I’ve lost a career, haven’t I?,” he told The Independent. “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?”
He added: “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.”