Deaf News: MPs formally back Access to Work campaign after Deaf people converge on Parliament

Posted on March 20, 2014

Sir Alan Meale MP backs deaf workers

Labour MP Sir Alan Meale has tabled an Early Day Motion asking the government to review its changes to Access to Work support for deaf people.

Sir Alan Meale is the MP in Mansfield where John Smith, prominent member of the Deaf community and comedian, lives. He is said to have tabled the motion after discussions with Smith and David Buxton, Chief Executive of the British Deaf Association at Deaf Lobby Day, an event at the Houses of Parliament on Monday. So far, eight other Labour MPs have also signed the motion.

Sir Alan’s motion reads:

That this House is concerned about the shift in the policy of the Department for Work and Pensions requiring deaf people in receipt of Access to Work funds to employ a full-time salaried support worker to enable them to bridge the gap which inhibits their abilities to participate equally in the job market; is worried that this approach will probably lead to other severe problems for deaf people in work where sign language interpreters are required; and calls on the Government immediately to reverse this strategy and instead discuss a better way forward with deaf organisations.

John Smith is one of the founding members of the Spit the Dummy and Campaign for BSL Act (STDC) Facebook campaign group which is focused on improving rights for sign language users. The group’s leaders are now preparing to organise their members into an all-out effort to get as many MPs to support the motion as possible. They will feel confident in their ability to persuade – last year Spit the Dummy members swung in behind an Early Day Motion tabled by Sir Malcolm Bruce and 125 MPs, mainly Labour, supported it after a concerted effort by deaf people to contact and meet their MPs. The same effort is likely to happen again although signatures from Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs may be harder to come by this time around.

The changes to Access to Work mean that deaf people who use more than thirty hours of communication support a week will be forced to directly employ an interpreter rather than select from a range of freelance or agency interpreters. This change of policy is said to limit the choice of interpreter for specialist work, is unrealistic as most interpreters are not available to employ in that way and create unnecessary bureaucracy and barriers for deaf people seeking work or changing jobs.

The tabling of the EDM comes soon after Jenny Sealey MBE, creative director of the Paralympics opening ceremony, was named as a spokesperson to the ‘Stop Changes to Access to Work’ Campaign. They launched a petition last year that has gained over 5,000 signatures so far. A coalition of leading charities have lobbied civil servants and ministers but gained no concessions.

Sir Alan’s motion will be seen as the first tangible success from Deaf Lobby Day on Monday when hundreds of deaf people were invited to Westminster Hall to meet their MP and persuade them to support improved rights of sign language users. David Buxton, Chief Executive of The BDA said: “It was estimated that 300 people attended in total. As far as we know, 63 MPs met their constituents, including two Secretaries of the State.”

“The highlight was that when about 150 deaf people arrived at 2.30pm, a high percentage of them said the did not receive reply from their local MPs agreeing to meet. I ordered them to go to the desk, fill in the green cards (to request to see an MP) resulting about 40 more MPs turning up!”

“What next? We must encourage more deaf people to meet their MPs in their home constituencies, we plan to do some video clips on the subject of how to meet MPs on the BDA website that will give deaf people more confidence to know what they need to do.”

“We also plan to send an Access to Work report to the DWP Select Committee and this is our urgent priority! The BDA cannot do this alone but will look forward to working with local deaf groups and organisations to make this happen. Together will make a real difference!”

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. Andy volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP Check out what our supporters provide: 




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