Dear Stephen Crabb MP,
I am writing to you because you are the Work and Pensions Secretary and have ultimate responsibility for Access to Work (AtW) funding. I want you to know what happened to me when I re-applied for my AtW funding recently.
To see this article in BSL, signed by Linda Richards, click play below, or scroll down to read it in English:
This letter has been made public because I believe it is important that other deaf and disabled people know they are not the only ones being treated in such an unacceptable manner by your staff.
I’m afraid I cannot tell you my name because I fear for the repercussions. I am genuinely worried that I will get into “trouble” if you find out who I am. It’s not relevant anyway, because I know that what has happened to me is not unique.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m generally an empowered and assertive person. I have plenty of control over my own life. However, my new AtW advisor (I use that word in the loosest sense possible, because it was actually me who advised them) has subjected me to such stress in the last month that I actually had an anxiety attack.
I do not usually have anxiety attacks.
I am a hardworking person with a demanding desk job. I only require BSL/English interpreters for a very small amount of time, because I have limited contact with people who cannot sign. I have been doing this job for over 10 years and have been very happy with my ad hoc AtW funding of late, which your previously friendly advisors agreed with minimal fuss.
However, my funding ran out in January this year and no one told me. This apparently happens quite a lot. So, because I didn’t know, I booked interpreters and paid them, then I realised I needed to re-apply so I contacted your staff and was allocated the above advisor.
I have never been subject to such a ridiculous and demoralising “assessment” in my life. It was like having to jump through a series of hoops at speed (and some of these hoops were actually on fire). Mr Crabb, I am not a circus performer; nor am I a magician.
I felt like every question was a trick and had to be answered extremely carefully. At times, I was made to feel like a common criminal; at others, a basic inconvenience. Every time I answered a set of questions, I was presented with another set, and all of these had to be answered within a very short time. I feared that if I couldn’t come up with all the correct information, I was going to have to start all over again, or lose my funding.
I was asked if I’d been deaf all my life. No, I became deaf when I was 4, which your staff should have on file already. In the next set of questions, I was asked how I became deaf. I was 4 then! I’m 42 now! Why is that relevant? Surely your staff should know that asking people how they became disabled is a big no no!
After quibbling over the amount of hours I need interpreters for, the advisor asked if I would consider having some kind of technological gadget to replace them (no). I was also asked for all sorts of other details, including the exact amount of time I’ve used interpreters for the last 3 years for (they got their sums wrong), and was made to spell out why. Why did the number go up and down if my job and disability have remained the same? But why?
I was also asked for a copy of my accounts (they could have found that on the Companies House website), for quotes from 3 interpreters, whether or not I can lipread, and if I get any benefit from hearing aids (no – but what’s that got to do with the price of bread?). As an aside, you might be interested to know that your staff have also been asking my friends what brand of hearing aids they wear. But why?
And all of this pedantic, controlling drivel needs to be delivered to your advisors’ email inboxes within the next day or so.
Never mind our work deadlines (because we’re kind of busy! We have jobs! That’s the whole point!) and never mind our other commitments. When our AtW advisors email, we must put everything aside and prioritise them to the death.
Through all of this, my advisor remained harsh and humourless. They refused to even acknowledge my question about whether or not the money I’d paid interpreters before I knew my funding had run out would be backdated, until I’d asked about six times (then I was told they didn’t know yet). And every time I emailed them back, I thought they’d reply with a final funding decision, but they didn’t. I just got more and more questions from them, again and again.
And all because I book one interpreter about 6 times a year, so that I can undertake continuous professional development and try to get a bit of work.
Mr Crabb, this is tantamount to bullying and I will not stand for it. As I said, I usually kick ass, but your staff drove me into a state of anxiety, forcing me to ask my wife for help on several occasions, when I just couldn’t take it any more.
I’ll live, but I worry more about people who aren’t as tough as I am. What about the hardworking deaf and disabled taxpayers who don’t check their emails every nanosecond? What about those who have English as a second language, or those who don’t have wives to help them? Will they have rugs pulled from under their feet?
Your system is not working. Please look into it.
A hardworking British taxpayer who just wants to do his job
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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