Deaf News: Sir Alan Meale MP says Access to Work problems are just the tip of the iceberg for deaf people

Posted on March 21, 2014

Sir Alan Meale

Sir Alan Meale, the MP who has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the House of Commons to support deaf people in work, has called the government’s changes to the Access to Work scheme ‘misguided’ and the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to issues facing deaf people.

Sir Alan, who is the MP for Mansfield, also asked deaf people to contact their MPs and encourage them to support the motion entitled ‘Department for Work and Pensions Policy on Sign Language Interpreters’ which asks the government to ‘consult with deaf organisations to find a better way forward’.

Recent changes to the Access to Work scheme, a way of providing support to enable disabled people to work, mean that deaf people who use more than thirty hours of communication support per week will not be able to choose the most appropriate sign language interpreters or other communication professionals, such as note-takers, for different aspects of their work.

Sir Alan was spurred into action when he met with his constituent John Smith, a prominent leader in the deaf community, and Chief Executive of the British Deaf Association David Buxton on Monday when 300 deaf people were invited to Westminster to meet their MPs. He tabled his EDM the next day.

“I’ve always been close to deaf people in Mansfield and I wanted to help in any way I could.” Sir Alan said.

“I went to the deaf lobby day on Monday and people made very good points about interpreters and how it is important to keep recruiting and training new interpreters for deaf people to work.”

“My motion says we need to look at the changes to Access to Work again to make sure that they don’t negatively impact on deaf people’s ability to work. We also need to invest now in training and recruiting interpreters.”

“The government’s stance on this issue is misguided. It is a struggle for deaf people to get others to recognise the help they need and being deaf can be a big disadvantage but people don’t understand that because they see someone who looks able bodied but don’t realise what being deaf means.”

Deaf comedian John Smith

Early Day Motions are a way for MPs to raise issues and gather support from other MPs. Sometimes derided as a waste of time and tokenistic, the vast majority of EDMs have no effect on policy at all.

Last year, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Malcolm Bruce MP, tabled an EDM calling for better rights for sign language users. A campaign followed with deaf people around the country writing to and visiting their MPs to persuade them to sign the motion. 125 MPs eventually supported the EDM, making it one of the most successful of the year.

Bruce then made communication support for deaf people the focus of a Bill he introduced into Parliament in October. The passage of that Bill was doomed from the start because no time could be found to debate it, but nevertheless, in the process of drafting the Bill, deaf organisations began working together to campaign for better communication rights for all deaf people. That was a good thing, since Bruce, a long time parliamentary advocate for deaf people, said he had grown frustrated at separate deaf organisations pursuing their own campaigns and making little progress.

Sir Alan Meale can expect plenty of support from deaf people that are desperate to make some headway; but does he expect support from MPs from across the chamber or the government?

He said: “I think it will be possible to get cross-party support for this motion. This isn’t a party political issue. An EDM is like a notice on a notice board. If MPs see it and agree to it then they sign it.”

“Profoundly deaf people have no hope at work unless they get the support and help they need. The government need to supply that help because work isn’t just for the able-bodied, it should be for everyone and that’s what our taxes pay to support. Deaf people need that help and support as a right. If we don’t pay our taxes to support groups like this in our society then there is no point in paying them. Deaf people are a major component in that.”

“It was also very interesting to find out what is happening across the UK and what the government are not doing for deaf people. This issue is just the tip of the iceberg – there is so much to do. My advice for deaf people is to contact their MPs and ask them to support this motion.”

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. Andy also 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

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