Who Benefits from the Privatisation of Public Sector Interpreting?

Three recent blog posts from Aisha Maniar, a human rights activist and writer, are absolutely brilliant. They’re informative, comprehensive and offer us an insight into the whole history of the pitfalls of privatising interpreting services and the government’s incessant drive to do so.

For BSL/English Interpreters it is so important that we understand the context and politics of what happens to the contracts we are booked under, that we join a union (NUBSLI) and support our counterparts: spoken language interpreters.

I re-blog the articles here for anyone who may not have seen them yet. They really are worthy of your time, please read.

Who Benefits from the Privatisation of Public Sector Interpreting? Part I

Who Benefits from the Privatisation of Public Sector Interpreting? Part II

Who Benefits from the Privatisation of Public Sector Interpreting? Part III

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Being away…

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This blog has been inactive for a while as I’ve been completing my Masters (got a distinction), volunteering for NUBSLI (brilliant experience, stood down to go on maternity leave) and had my second child (now a year ago). I currently have other family commitments too. All of this plus the complexities of being a working mum, leaves little spare time.

I’ve left the blog up as the articles mostly represent a historical record of the failed 2011 Ministry of Justice interpreting contract from my perspective as a Sign Language Interpreter. Although this was the main impetus for starting this blog, articles have covered the creeping privatisation of our work from around that time, problems with Access to Work funding, issues with fees, NUBSLI’s work, membership organisations, the problems of regulatory/registration bodies and the general state of our profession.

Will there be more writing to come? There is much I have missed over the last year or so that I may well come back to write about but for now the blog stays up as it is. Before I write any more posts, I am committed to canvassing for the Labour party leading up to the general election in June which takes up much of my remaining spare time!

NUBSLI public statement on CCS framework agreement

imageReblogged from NUBSLI’s website. This statement was published on 28th April 2016 shortly after the Crown Commercial Service send out the contract notice.

Since September 2014, NUBSLI has been in negotiation with the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) in an attempt to improve the initial drafts of a national framework agreement for Language Services (interpreting and translation). We highlighted many concerns, most notably a lack of standards and safeguards for users of BSL/English interpreting services and the waste of public funds that would occur were this framework to go ahead.

We acknowledge that some improvements have been made. However, we maintain that a large national framework, whereby public authorities can purchase contracts, is not appropriate for our profession. It has the potential to cause many interpreters to leave their careers, as evidenced by our profession exit interview report and our 2015 survey of working conditions (pdf)

In February 2015, NUBSLI launched the #ScrapTheFramework campaign, due to ongoing concerns about this large-scale privatisation of our profession and the damage it would cause to interpreters and the Deaf community we serve.

The framework commenced on 22nd April for up to four years and the suppliers were announced this week on the Government’s website. BSL/English interpreting and other services for Deaf people comes under Lot 4, and is split into regions a-e, which cover Greater London including Overseas, Southern England, Midlands and East of England, North of England and, lastly, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Most suppliers will cover all regions. They include:

  • Clarion
  • London Borough of Newham (Language Shop)
  • Sign Solutions
  • Language Empire
  • thebigword
  • Prestige Network
  • DA Languages

From our privileged position as the service providers in this field, and with collective experience and expertise, our remaining concerns are:

  • A reduced amount of choice and control for Deaf people.
  • Poorer administration – where large agencies subcontract to smaller agencies, mistakes and wastage are more likely in the booking of professionals.
  • Poorer access – where Deaf people are provided with inappropriately qualified or experienced people, this has an impact on service delivery.
  • Poorer accountability – It is more difficult for Deaf people to complain about poor services.
  • Downward pressure on interpreters’ fees and terms and conditions to unsustainable levels.
  • Inefficient use of public funds on administration rather than access.
  • Large scale privatisation further puts at risk the ability for smaller agencies, with good local knowledge and relationships, to continue.
  • Despite a regional structure, none of the suppliers are local agencies.

NUBSLI wish to make it clear that BSL/English interpreters are not prepared to jeopardise the sustainability of their profession by accepting the diminished fees, and terms and conditions set out in the framework. These are not fitting for a workforce of extensively trained and qualified freelancers, and clearly go against market rates falling short of the industry standard. This was made clear to the CCS who have regrettably overlooked the counsel of the profession.

We have already seen the boycott of one NHS contract by interpreters in the South West. Interpreters are increasingly prepared to take a similar position with other contracts which do not meet our basic rates of pay and terms.

We will be continuing to campaign against the framework and will work with individual commissioners wherever possible.

If you are a BSL/English interpreter and are not yet a member of NUBSLI, we urge you to join. We are stronger together.

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.

Courts, continued chaos and confidentiality

Capita still holds the contract for interpreting for the courts and police despite further and regular failings. The contract was originally awarded to ALS in August 2011 and the company was bought by Capita a few months later just before the contract went live in January 2012. This five year contract, worth £75 million, has cost the public purse more than it has saved in mistrials, adjournments and wasted time.

The contract is now two years in but despite frequent and disastrous failings the Ministry of Justice still states the contract has saved the taxpayer money. There have been frequent reports about spoken language interpreters or rather those that are unqualified but work as interpreters. There is still little reported about sign language apart from what can be said on this blog.

Meanwhile… the National Audit Office investigated and reported on the contract in September 2012. A further report was released last November into the role of major contractors in the delivery of public services. A frightening half of £187 billion of total public spend, national and local, is on contractors. The UK’s infrastructure has steadily been privatised. A large percentage of that £187 billion will be going to shareholders rather than development and reinvestment in the UK’s economy.

Any argument to say that they are creating employment does not hold when the jobs provided are at a much lower quality than the ones that were available before the contracts. Capita has since eroded the quality of spoken language interpreters provided for different assignments by lowering the tier of available interpreters for certain types of work. We have seen what has happened to employment under this government: zero-hour contracts where those ’employed’ live in an insecure world of waiting until 5pm to know whether they have work the next day and a living wage currently unsupported. With the cost of living continuing to rise, the minimum wage does not cover daily expenses. A Capita paid interpreter often does not even receive the minimum wage once travel and other expenses have been factored in.

The NAO report states that three quarters of the £4 billion central government spending went to the big four contractors: G4S, Atos, Serco and Capita. As is typical with large companies there is tax avoidance. The treasury and the tax payers loses out again. The Linguist Lounge provides a good summary of the report.

Reports of spoken language interpreter failings were numerous as soon as the contract rolled out. As UK sign language bodies had campaigned successfully for a minimum standard of RSLI, stories of a drop in standards were few and far between though most Deaf professionals and experienced interpreters were aware that the sign language interpreting agency providing most of the interpreters were actively recruiting those with little or no legal experience.

We know that sign language interpreters have been paid less, agencies are still vying for work with the agency originally favoured losing out and more work is going out direct to the interpreters who market themselves as available to the courts. There is still a lack of sign language interpreting stories hitting the news as the community sticks to its tenet of confidentiality. For those not in the Deaf community, confidentiality is taken very seriously in a community where even nationally everyone knows someone who knows that person. Nevertheless, hearsay and gossip continue under the radar and they tell us standards have fallen, interpreters have not been booked for hearings and where booked, standards are generally not as good as they were. This too with several high profile cases being investigated and held concerning government access to work funding fraud.

So what now? Capita continues, badly. The Public Accounts Committee is still asking the NAO to continue investigations. And the excellent Professional Interpreters 4 Justice campaign continues. Let’s hope for a watershed moment and soon. The importance of proper interpreters was highlighted recently with viral reporting of Mandela’s memorial service interpreter with all watching and reporting hoping it would make a difference for everyone in raising standards. Perhaps those that have stories about Deaf people being denied interpreters in courts or being provided ones of a lower quality could find some way to get permission or report them for the benefit of us all.

 

The 38 Degrees Access to Work Campaign – The Story So Far

ATW campaign

Emily Smith was instrumental in setting up the 38 degrees campaign to stop the discriminatory changes to Access to Work funding for Deaf people. As a joint sponsor she has been tirelessly pushing for more signatures to the campaign to bring issues the Deaf community face to ministers. She is a Registered BSL/English Interpreter working with the Deaf community. Emily provides an update below about the campaign.

In case you don’t know what all this is about, Access to Work (AtW) have decided to start to implement guidance, forcing Deaf people that use 30 hours or more AtW support, to employ a salaried interpreter. No flexibility. No choice. No control. There has been no consultation with deaf people or their employers or interpreters. It is unworkable, yet AtW haven’t taken this into account.

Why we set up the campaign?

There had been many unspoken discussions amongst us about what was happening with Access to Work. The odd look here, the odd tut there…  Then one fateful Monday night, having spoken about the fact that no one seemed to be doing anything, it happened. We found ourselves on the 38 degrees website writing furiously. Within an hour we had a campaign!

What happened next was very unexpected. The campaign went live and up on Facebook at 6.30pm…. Later that night, we had 1,000 signatures… By the next day, we had 2,500! The little logo that we’d hastily created was all on everyone’s pages. The response was amazing and showed us that we were right in our thinking…. People were worried about this.

We have been asked why we didn’t go to the Deaf organisations about our concerns. The reason was time. We all had people we knew that were being affected, and their jobs were being placed at risk now. Organisations not only take a long time to get things done, they hadn’t been communicating with their own members about Access to Work even being a concern. We could do something immediately. If we were right about people being worried and feeling that they weren’t being represented, a campaign would show the people involved that something needed to be done. Quickly.

We are thrilled at the level of response. Already we’ve seen ministers talking as a direct result of the campaign, and deaf charities raising the issue.

Deaf organisations seem to have been spurred into action. If our campaign had any part in this, then that’s brilliant!

What next?

A letter will be winging its way to the two addressees of our petition; Sir Malcolm Bruce and Iain Duncan Smith, and we will of course keep everyone informed of their response. For the most important news, we will send emails to everyone that has signed up to the campaign. There are lots of other things going on too. Keep your eye on our website for the most recent updates: Stopchanges2AtW.wordpress.com, or like our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter (@emilysmith2007).

What can you do to help? 

Numbers! We need more signatures!

The more people we can get to sign up to this, the more pressure this will put on organisations, AtW and Ministers to do something!  Send emails to your friends, family and work colleagues, asking them to sign and share the petition. You can also email your local MP. There are template letters on our website. If you have been told to recruit an interpreter using your AtW resources let us know. We need your stories please share them with us by emailing emilysmith2007@mail.com.