Access to Work report criticises government for “threatening the employability” of Deaf people (BSL)

Posted on December 19, 2014 by

The Work and Pensions Committee’s Access to Work report, published today, has heavily criticised the government’s Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) for changes to how the scheme has been run.

You can read the full report here, and there is also a BSL summary now online, which you can see by clicking here.

The report bluntly states that the changes have “threatened the employability” of Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users.

To watch this article in BSL, with thanks to Matt Dixon, click play below. Read on below for the rest of the article.

Susan Daniels, CEO of the NDCS, says the report is a “damning indictment of how deaf and other disabled people have been supported by Access to Work (AtW), particularly in terms of customer service.”

Access to Work (AtW) is a scheme which offers support in employment to Deaf and disabled people, enabling them to get and keep their jobs.

The inquiry into the scheme was set up earlier this year after complaints from Deaf and disabled people about problems getting support.

The majority of the evidence sent to the inquiry came from Deaf people who use BSL to communicate at work.

Their evidence showed that the ’30 hour rule,’ and new limits on interpreters’ hourly rate of pay have had what the report calls “a profoundly detrimental impact” on Deaf people’s ability to get interpreting support.

Some Deaf people gave evidence that their AtW budgets had been reduced by 50% or more, and as a result, they were left without interpreting support or with invoices they could not pay.

The report says that AtW changes have “demonstrated a lack of understanding of how BSL interpretation is currently provided and used” and adds “DWP must work with service users and the BSL interpreting profession to fully resolve these issues as a matter of urgency.”

The scheme, sometimes described as the government’s best-kept secret, was also criticised for a “lack of transparency.”

Deaf people’s concerns that changes to the scheme have been motivated by a desire to cut costs are reflected in the report.

For example, the committee was told by the Disability Minister that the guidance for the scheme had been applied “in an attempt to control the costs of BSL support” because it accounted for a “disproportionately large amount of total AtW expenditure.”

The report says that in 2013/2014, 3,430 Deaf people received BSL interpretation, at a cost of “around £25 million,” or 24% of the expenditure of the scheme.

However, Dame Anne Begg MP, a member of the committee, said:

“The costs of BSL are relatively high but it would be unacceptable for DWP to try to control costs by targeting a particular group in a way which threatens people’s ability to stay in their jobs.

The Government has previously announced a temporary suspension of the”30 hour rule” but evidence suggests deaf people are continuing to face difficulties sourcing the BSL support they need.

DWP must address the issue as a matter of urgency, and fulfil its commitment to review the cases of all deaf service users who believe they have been adversely affected.”

The Committee has made a number of recommendations specifically aimed at Deaf BSL users in Section 4 of the report, stating:

  • Cases should be reviewed where a BSL user believes that the ’30 hours rule’ or cap on interpreting rates has left them unable to get support.
  • The DWP should re-issue guidance on when users should be given full-time support workers and this guidance should state that this “does not typically apply to BSL interpretation.”
  • BSL interpreting organisations such as ASLI and NUBSLI should be consulted about rates of pay for interpreters.
  • The DWP should consult on the “efficiency of the market for BSL interpreting services” and consider how to increase the number of interpreters.
  • The DWP should set up a specially trained team to deal with high-cost AtW awards, including for BSL users. This team should have intensive Deaf-awareness training and be aware of all communication support methods.
  • Technological solutions should be considered for communication support where “appropriate to needs and cost-effective.”
  • All future changes to Access to Work policy and guidance should be consulted on with users, through a new users forum.

The report also recommends the DWP should:

  • Introduce a Video Relay System for BSL users
  • Increase the accessibility of ATW information, by producing easy to read content and BSL videos.
  • Be clearer about how decisions are made and how people can complain or challenge an ATW decision.
  • Establish an online application and invoicing system and a web portal for ATW.

Read more responses from the Disability Minister and deaf organisations by clicking here.

By Charlie Swinbourne, Editor

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