Charlie Swinbourne: The DWP’s own analysis shows how their Access to Work cap directly threatens deaf careers

Posted on May 14, 2015

Many deaf people woke up feeling pretty down on Friday morning with the news that the Conservatives – and around £12 billion of welfare cuts – had taken power. But it didn’t take long for us to feel even worse.

I wrote on Thursday morning that the next government needed to stop the DWP from bullying Deaf employees by withdrawing the support they receive at work.

Within hours of the election result on Friday, the DWP website released an analysis, dated May 2015 which shows how a recent cap to the amount people can receive from Access to Work to support their jobs will directly impact on, and threaten, deaf careers.

In the document, the DWP admit: “For any cap, the majority of users affected would be Deaf or hearing loss customers, rather than belonging to any other impairment group.”

After the review, the government announced a cap of £40,800 in March, and this analysis shows them considering the effect of three different levels of cap, including one as low as £27,200 per year.

Here’s a screengrab from page 11 of the document:

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 20.50.06

The DWPs own figures show that of the users affected by the cap they’ve announced they are bringing in, of £40,800, almost 90% of them were deaf – a total of around 180 deaf people.

Each one of those people will now face trying to continue being as effective at their job with less access to the communication they need.

The document also states that overall, the DWP is aiming to move away from high-level awards in favour of “a shift towards lower average awards [that] would allow us to support more customers.”

This comes at a time when Access to Work is already seen as being in crisis by deaf people, with support being taken away from sign language users (many people I know) for any reason the DWP can think of.

I wrote about some of the recent cases that have come to light last week, but let me run through them quickly again.

Three weeks ago, Drew Budai, a support worker for Merseyside Society for Deaf People asked for two hours extra sign language support a week. The reply from the DWP told him that all of his sign language support was being taken away.

Some cases of support being rejected go further than just saying no. Lottie Powell, a direct payments adviser for a disability organisation in Brighton, received a letter from Access to Work claiming that her support workers were actually doing her job for her.

Nick Beese, a Senior User Experience Designer, started a new job at Amazon and then had to wait weeks for confirmation of sign language support for his new job, which involves attending up to four meetings or conference calls a day, and running design workshops.

Beese told last year’s Access to Work enquiry (which stated bluntly that the changes had “threatened the employability” of BSL users) that the uncertainty he went through had “shaken my confidence in my ability to follow my ambitions and develop my career.”

Indeed, Dame Anne Begg MP said as part of the report: “DWP’s recent approach to BSL is highly regrettable and betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the BSL interpreting market and how BSL is utilised by deaf people at work. The costs of BSL are relatively high but it is unfair for the DWP to try to control costs by targeting a particular group in a way which threatens people’s ability to stay in their jobs.”

Things haven’t improved in the last five months, and now, with proof that the DWP knew what the effect of the cap on deaf people would be, but went ahead anyway, most deaf people in work aren’t expecting things to get better any time soon.

By Charlie Swinbourne. Charlie is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist, director and award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, penned the films My SongComing Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.

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