DSA Survey – respond now!

Another consultation related post and one you must have heard of by now. It has been posted everywhere. It is SO important, I’m reposting.

DSA and student funding is a hot topic right now. Whether you work with students or not, fill it in. We can’t sit back and hear or experience problems without saying something.

Deaf or hard of hearing and in Uni, use a CSW or interpreter, started in 2016 or 2017 and study full time? Fill out this part of the survey. BSL translations available.

We hear of problems all the time. Make them known to the excellent research team leading this and get these problems raised.

Research led by Frances Lewin at University College London with Prof Chloe Marshall and Dr Robert Adam.

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DV: Tell the MoJ what you think of its interpreting contract…

Recently the excellent DeafHope team (Domestic Violence (DV) service supporting Deaf women experiencing or who have experienced DV) published a BSL (British Sign Language) clip asking people to take part in the Home Office (and Ministry of Justice) consultation on Domestic Violence.

As the video points out Deaf people can suffer worse from the journey by a lack of access to services. It may take them more time to be referred to the DeafHope service which is specialist. Deaf women can often be turned away from a refuge due a lack of Deaf access equipment (such as vibrating fire alarms, flashing light doorbells). Booking of interpreters may be refused from services such as police, courts, local DV service, CAB, housing, council services and social servies. Social workers may display a complete lack of Deaf awareness in how Deaf women communicate and relate to their children. This has sometimes also resulted in care proceedings and in the worst cases, children being taken away from parents.

One of the main issues is the MoJ (Ministry of Justice) contract for interpreting, which was the trigger for starting this blog some 6 years ago, and it has been awful. In that time we’ve seen a spoken language agency take the whole contract on and fail miserably. Cases adjourned, quality of service reduced and a reduction in fees (which has exacerbated the first two issues mentioned).

At least in the second generation contract BSL was taken out of the main contract and put in the “non-spoken” languages part although I think the damage has been done and I’ve seen nothing to suggest any improvements. Due to the reduction in fees, court interpreting which should attract the best now (generally) lures in the newly qualified and less experienced. Deaf professionals have reported incidents of seeing appalling interpreting where their clients do not understand the court proceedings.

With relation to DV this can lead to cases being adjourned, leaving Deaf people at a disadvantage waiting for their case to be heard. Perpetrators have benefited from this or have claimed not to understand the interpreter, resulting in getting charges dropped. Deaf women and men should not have to receive a lesser service from the departments that the Home Office and Ministry of Justice oversee, resulting in society level discrimination. We might not be able to wave magic wands but interpreters and Deaf people… (or any friend of Deaf people), have your say and respond to the consultation before 31st May. Scroll down, click on the blue box and if you want to respond in relation to Deaf people only you can click “Supporting victims with specific needs”.

It is an irony that one MoJ contract is affecting vital services for Deaf people experiencing DV and that the Home Office (and MoJ) has initiated this consultation. Tell them so please.

Does the DWP have a case to answer in Access to Work fraud?

Nicky EvansNicky Evans is a BSL/English interpreter and the co-founder of the Stop Changes to Access to Work campaign (www.stopchanges2atw.com). The campaign was established in November 2013 to oppose cuts being made to the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme which provides the support Deaf and disabled workers need to access employment. 

Does the DWP have a case to answer in Access to Work fraud?

Before we get into it, I’d like to make one thing very clear: I do not condone fraud. It is wrong and the people involved must be held accountable for this and brought to justice.

But what of the DWP’s role in all this?

Here is a system that isn’t accessible (to an extent that the end customer (the Deaf Access to Work user) can’t always understand the forms and needs support completing these), relies heavily on the customer to do the bulk of the administration and where any contact with the DWP has become so stressful that they feel unable to ask for support or advice when needed.

Having been involved in Access to Work campaigning in various guises over the years, I have been continually frustrated by the DWP’s lack of response to our concerns over fraud. I have attended meetings over the past three years with various senior DWP staff/Ministers and have fed back the concerns of both the deaf community and interpreters. Information being provided by advisors is continually inconsistent and interpreters who work for three different clients could be paid using three different processes.

Three years on and several fraud cases later the claim system has seen little or no improvement. 

Interpreters have asked continually for improvements to be made to the DWP’s finance system: our remittance notice often doesn’t arrive (it is still usually sent by post) so we can’t check amounts received or know which clients these relate to; a remittance notice often doesn’t record our invoice numbers; and we can’t speak to AtW to sort any of these issues out (as we are told we have to go through the deaf person – adding to their stress and workload).

Only this year I have been overpaid by a large amount of money and have spent the past two months trying to return this – to no avail. I am not the only interpreter to be overpaid. Interpreters are regularly overpaid, underpaid, part paid, not paid at all, owed late payment fees (which despite being a statutory entitlement, the DWP don’t seem to think it applies to them)… I could go on….

All this raises the question: what role has the DWP had in recent fraud cases? 

There has been a failure to respond to concerns or develop tighter financial controls as a result of these. As I said at the beginning, I do not condone fraud, but I do feel that the DWP must accept some responsibility for this. Systems so open to abuse following several cases of fraud have remained wide open. For a government who continually tell us there is a need for austerity and to balance the books, they should perhaps start by examining their own internal processes.

What to Watch out for in 2015

So 2014 has brought us… cuts, cuts and more cuts.

There was disparity in those cuts towards Deaf and Disabled people – see DPAC and Access to Work changes which mostly targeted the more “high-cost” users which included anyone who uses BSL interpreters.

The government announced quantative easing – pump money into the economy (by printing more) to make sure there is more to go round. What this actually did was made the rich richer. Everyone else did not feel any difference.

The economy is getting better, but only for the few (see above). For the rest… more food banks and zero hours contracts, no wage rises and more workers having to strike.

For Deaf people and interpreters? Access to Work chaos and news of a framework agreement for interpreting services UK-wide starting in 2015. Talk of interpreters earning £100k. Damaging, divisive and those that quoted it made themselves look ridiculous. All against a backdrop of excuses that there is no more money so we all have to endure more austerity. That despite the £95 million promised increase in AtW spend that never materialised. Why haven’t you heard about this more? Smoke and mirrors.

What to watch out for 2015…

The best campaign by far of 2014: Stop Changes to Access to Work including news of taking the DWP to a judicial review.

NUBSLI, the Union for BSL interpreters and translators. After only six months, membership is at over 20% of the profession. Membership of unions is usually higher than this amongst professions so there is a way to go before interpreters and translators are matching other professions. NUBSLI has been making headway with representations to the DWP concerning AtW and the Crown Commercial Service regarding the framework agreement. These are the two main political threats to the profession. Whatever happens it is certain that the work on minimum fees will do well to ensure that interpreting remains a viable profession. Without this there is little protection from cuts to fees, de-professionalisation of interpreting and to ward off a brain drain should threats get worse.

The new Framework for all interpreting services in the UK. First due to roll out from December, it has been delayed with tendering due to start this month. The Crown Commercial Service have done a good job of barely consulting with anyone bar agencies and government. Ignoring all calls for the removal of low level BSL qualifications (1-4), the ‘final’ draft was released and caused an uproar. There is much more wrong with the draft and NUBSLI continues its representations. Surprisingly there are some who still believe it will be a good thing: despite the MoJ, a framework being pushed through with only tokenistic consultation and certain large agencies involved with an interest in controlling the market. For that you should read more profit, lower quality, lower paid workers i.e. Interpreters, less choice and control for the end consumer i.e. Deaf people. Far from being a win/win/win situation this is more like large agencies (win), interpreters (lose), deaf community (lose). You could add the role of Signature/NRCPD/CACDP in this: backdoor statutory regulation and control of the market and training opportunities (big fat win/win/win for the three-faced organisation).

A new alternative register for BSL interpreters and translators.

There is a glimmer of hope for linguistic rights with Scotland’s BSL Bill. Anyone who has had any conversations with politicians will find talk centres around audiology, cochlear implants and Deaf people learning more English. And this from politicians that should know better. If the bill is passed in Scotland, we have a chance in the UK that organisations will have to think more about BSL users.

Not so much hope for school children with the so-called BSL Coalition and work on a CSW register. Whether a CSW register is held by NRCPD or another organisation, this is still a validation of the role and moves away from the potential to campaign for interpreters in schools and therefore higher standards and access to BSL for Deaf children for whom BSL is their main language. A backwards move by organisations who are supposed to be supporting Deaf children.

The UK appears to be the first country to have been investigated by the UN for violations of disabled people’s rights. Keep your eye on the disability sector for the latest. The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance of 10 organisations has been compiling evidence for a shadow report detailing what the UK government needs to do to fulfil its obligations under the UNCRPD. The BDA’s appendix is available to read online.

The run up to the general election. The Tory/Lib Dem coalition have shown no regard for equality: the unlawful scrapping of the ILF, disparate welfare cuts, UN investigations. UKIP forget it. The Green Party? The media is too busy focussing on UKIP. Labour? Catch up please. The Deaf/linguistic/disabled community combined is worth 12.5 million votes. That’s surely enough carrot to sort out the above and make 2015 a better year for us all.

‘Access to work’ is making it impossible for a Norfolk man to do his job

It is good to see a public case study of the effects of AtW cuts on Deaf people and their jobs. There is an article on the DPAC website – Government initiative ‘Access to work’ is making it impossible for a Norfolk man to do his job. Read the article on the DPAC site.

PSA accreditation: It has nothing to do with the medical model

PSAThe NRCPD has sought answers from the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) as to whether they could apply as a voluntary register to be accredited. We still have no clear answer but is this really a move towards what some perceive as aligning interpreting to a medical model?

Our history as an emerging profession of Sign Language Interpreters has lead us from the DWEB (Deaf Welfare Examination Board) interpreters to CACDPs first register in the 1980s which mostly consisted of those already working with Deaf people – social workers and Teachers of the Deaf. In the late 1980s funding was sourced and the Citi Services course became the first training course for interpreters. We were moving away from the helper model towards a more professional route into interpreting.

At the same time models of Deafness went from the medical model to social model i.e. there is nothing wrong with the individual that needs to be treated but rather that it is society that causes barriers. Then to a cultural model in which Deaf people have their own culture and language.

If only the government saw Deaf people that way. What we have had since 2010 is an tidal wave of outsourcing of interpreting services which has seen the lowest bidder win contracts across all sectors. This has been especially bad with cash strapped hospitals, mental health trusts and primary care services. Many NRCPD registered interpreters can no longer get any medical bookings now. Many Deaf people are not provided with registered interpreters when attending appointments. The examples of interpreters being used are few and far between. Just see the Our Health in Your Hands work for surveys and, for real life examples, the BSL Act Spit the Dummy campaign. Contract holders often send BSL users to hospitals to interpret who then tell Deaf people they left their yellow badge at home (the NRCPD one).

Outsourcing contracts to providers who are able to get away with not using registered personnel is going back in time and it goes against the government’s health and social care agenda. The only antidote to this is to ensure that all medical services book a NRCPD Registered Interpreter for Deaf people at their appointments. We know the damage it does if they do not. See the RNID’s A Simple Cure report, the TEA report. See the current work by OHIYH. See SignHealth’s long awaited Sick of It report, launching soon.

To ensure only NRCPD Registered Interpreters are used in medical settings is not going back to a time when the medical model is the prevailing paradigm. Sign Language Interpreters will not have to change their behaviour whilst interpreting nor will they be recognised as only being used for appointments. It is merely a step towards providers only being allowed to book Registered Interpreters rather than the situation now where Deaf people sign consent without knowledge of what they sign, struggle to understand how to take medication, their diagnoses, their prognosis and any treatments prescribed.

Whether PSA accreditation will actually get us a step closer to statutory regulation is unknown. Yet. PSA takes responsibility for both overseeing statutory regulators as well as voluntary registers. It requires registers to undertake audits, to make themselves more fit for purpose. The PSA can only improve the NRCPD and strengthen our position in getting ourselves seen as professionals and ensuring Deaf people have appropriate access. At medical appointments.

We will still work in the media, in courts, at police stations, at art galleries, at wedding and funerals, in work places, at conferences and anywhere else that Deaf people are present and want to gain access in a culturally appropriate way, in sign language. Let’s not confuse models of deafness with one of the areas in which we work. Or used to. With some work by the register we may well work in medical settings once more.

Tories Limit Access to Work

Sayce reportThe Sayce report stated the value of Access to Work (AtW) to Deaf and disabled people and the value to the economy of more people in work. Yet this is another area the Conservatives are attacking with cuts.

We have another move by government that will see interpreters again being undervalued, under-respected and underemployed. So far in the area of work that is publicly funded we have seen that Deaf people rarely get a registered, trained interpreter for any medical appointments. The next area to be hit was the courts and police stations. Were it not for work done by ASLI at the time we would have level 3 British Sign Language holders attempting to interpret legal jargon in courts or maybe even worse. Still, the way in which interpreter provision has proceeded via a monopoly contract has meant that problems have still occurred, fees are being squeezed and as a result less experienced interpreters are working in court. Now we have AtW as the next area hit by the latest round of cuts to Deaf people and interpreters.

The 38 degrees campaign continues. The BDA is doing some excellent work. Their report is available from their website. The only criticism of the report is that it states that interpreters will not take full time salaried jobs. Following on from the AtW policy that Deaf people with over 30 hours provision must seek a salaried interpreter and those that can not must take a rate cut equivalent to a salaried interpreter (less than half of a freelance rate, worse if you have been sourcing via an agency). It is not that interpreters will not, it is that many can not. Many interpreters do take salaried positions but those that do not have their reasons. We are a profession with many part time workers, many women, some of whom are mothers. We need variety, contact with many Deaf people, in many areas of work to maintain our skills in processing. It is an unworkable policy for many interpreters as well as Deaf people who prefer that variety, prefer to have two interpreters for some meetings and time when they do not have an interpreter present. Many DWP staff were claiming this policy had been created in consultation with ASLI. That was refuted by ASLI and DWP have since agreed and sent a message to all their advisors asking them not to make these claims.

Aside from interpreters, if Deaf people are expected to employ interpreters that comes with additional responsibility outside of their ordinary work that they should not be expected to bear. DWP have stated that on costs of employment are to be paid by AtW but that is not the reality on the ground. What employer is going to employ a Deaf person if they then have to employ an interpreter too with the additional risks of maternity leave, sick leave, absences, potential disciplinaries…? This reduction in flexibility and right of choice can only lead to even more discrimination for Deaf people.

So what now?

Many ASLI members are still writing to their MPs as well as responding to them after work done by the ASLI AtW group. Their AtW report coming out soon reporting on members’ experiences and the challenges they face in not being able to work confined by these unworkable DWP policies.

After the Deaf Lobby Day on Monday where many Deaf people attended parliament, an Early Day Motion has now been tabled against the discriminatory AtW changes. Please ask your MP to sign the EDM and stop the Conservatives from attscking more of those that use state services and support and the professions that facilitate these services.