Who set up NUBSLI? Nicky Evans!

Written by Jen Smith

I got some credit recently at the ASLI 30th conference for some very important work that actually… I didn’t do. So let’s give credit where credit is due and set the record straight.

I didn’t establish NUBSLI. The utterly brilliant Nicky Evans did (see pic!), with support from Wes Mehaffy and a handful of other interpreters who understood the need for a union.

I’ll tell the story of how Nicky came to set up the union but firstly let’s get this out of the way. What did I do when I was part of the ASLI board? I helped run ASLI, in accordance with its aims and objectives as a professional association. That is what you do when you’re duty bound as a Director of an association.

I did some really great pieces of work like save the association £20k on the office contract and supported some working groups and regions alongside budgetary and governance decisions.

The confusion comes as, like other members of Unite the Union, as soon as Nicky Evans set up NUBSLI, I transferred my membership across from the branch of NUPIT (National Union of Professional Interpreters and Translators) to the one specifically for BSL/English Interpreters. I’d been a member of NUPIT since 2010 after the shambolic MoJ contract. Four years of Union membership and finally a branch for my specific field!

As a believer and supporter of unions, of collective action and with an understanding of politics I understand how we as interpreters must be political to influence those that effectively pay the majority of our wage. Government staff put in place policies and contracts that can shape the worlds of interpreters and Deaf people, for better or worse. Usually the latter, and there needs to be input from a strong Union, professional associations and organisations such as the BDA. I knew the importance of unions but it wasn’t me that established NUBSLI.

Just prior to my leaving the ASLI board, after three years of hard work, I wanted ASLI to endorse NUBSLI in some way. Or to at least acknowledge the importance of its existence. This wasn’t forthcoming and there was a lot of confusion at the time about the role of unions, why interpreters even needed one and why NUBSLI would do work already being done by a professional association.

Professional associations are much better placed to work on standards, education, supporting members. Collectivism is not something I ever wanted ASLI to do. Just state support for the right organisation to do that: NUBSLI.

There was an ASLI board meeting, decisions about NUBSLI that I’d brought up were categorically made on the basis of facts that weren’t actually true. And I was on holiday. Amongst all of that I left having seen my viewpoint completely misunderstood and had seen Nicky and Wes’s work as Access to Work CoChairs effectively blocked and her being forced to stand down. It was a board I no longer felt part of, one that lacked fundamental understanding with an ethos I disagreed with that had started to pervade every decision.

Sad? Yes. But within weeks I’d attended NUBSLI’s very first meeting and was asked to stick my hand up to be Chair. The first committee was formed and weren’t we a team! To date, it was the most productive, proactive, prolific work I have ever done as part of a committee who learnt quick, worked hard and let nothing get in our way. Nicky Evans, YOU set up NUBSLI and I salute you.

So this is Nicky’s story as I understand it and in my words. The facts have been checked…

As the Access to Work CoChair of ASLI, Nicky, saw the profession being eroded by government decisions that were affecting our work and the service that Deaf people were getting from us. Deaf people’s claims were revoked and slashed. Blanket decisions were made and with no strong Deaf or interpreter input everyone was suffering at the whims of the DWP. Deaf people’s work suffered. StopChanges2AtW brought Deaf and disabled people together to campaign with interpreters, but there was no effective work being done by the interpreting community.

Nicky mentioned these problems to a barrister she was working with as part of the StopChanges2AtW campaign. What you don’t have a union? You better get one.

She mentioned it in passing to a taxi driver. No Union? Best get in one and if you don’t, set one up.

She mentioned it to a political campaign group. No Union? We’ll help you set it up.

Unite the Union it was. Nicky did a lot of leg work, had lots of meetings and got support from the black taxi driver’s union branch (also mostly freelancers) and her political contacts who included inspiring campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

This was all before it got raised at any ASLI forum or meeting. NUBSLI was born out of political need. I just happened to stick my hand in the air and become NUBSLI’s first Chair. I didn’t establish it, Nicky Evans did. Let’s give her the credit she so well deserves.


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.

Why NUBSLI are marching at the Stop Changes to Access to Work march

posted originally by NUBSLI | 4 September 2015 on The Nub.

The Stop Changes To Access To Work campaign has always been a collaboration between Deaf and Disabled people and BSL/English interpreters. Very early on, the government’s rhetoric strongly indicated a desire to create a divide between the Deaf community and interpreters (e.g. by grossly overstating the earnings of interpreters). It was partly a response to this situation that instigated the inception of NUBSLI, with an acute awareness that alongside the Deaf community BSL/English interpreters would be targeted by the DWP.

DWP cap on AtW is unnecessary

It is our view that the proposed cap on Access to Work funding serves to further the attempt to divide interpreters and Deaf people, whilst at the same time re-establishing a glass ceiling in the work-place, the very same ceiling that the introduction of Access to Work helped to remove. The cap is a supposed solution to a problem which we believe does not exist.

Two years after the initial requests were made, the government have yet to provide any information on the Return on Investment (ROI) for the Access to Work scheme. They refute the Sayce report figures, which indicated a £1.48 return for every £1 spent, despite having accepted this report and its findings, which they had commissioned.


NUBSLI continues to work closely with StopChanges, DeafATW, DPAC, Graeae Theatre Company, Inclusion London, Unite the Union and many other campaign groups, and see these relationships as vital in this climate of cuts.

Our aim is to safeguard our profession and the services that our friends, family and colleagues in the Deaf community access. That is why we will be marching on the 26th September and hope you will join us.

Stop Changes to AtW march details

The Department of Work & Pensions’ Access to Work scheme is supposed to make sure that Deaf and disabled people are able to work on an equal basis to non-disabled people.

But…they are cutting our access so we are losing our jobs and finding it even harder to find new ones.

We want to work and have careers but the Government won’t let us.


Saturday 26 September 2015

Meet at 12.00pm 

March begins at 1.00pm, marching to Downing Street to deliver petition.


Old Palace Yard, Westminster, SW1A 0AA

Round up…

I’ve barely blogged since the election. The challenges the sign language interpreting profession are facing in the UK are huge. What does this mean if this is happening to a small niche profession such as ours? 

  • The very existence of our profession is under threat.
  • So to other professions who serve the Deaf community e.g lipspeakers.
  • Deaf people are being affected too in every area of life.
  • The challenges we all face fit into the sweeping blanket changes happening to the disabled community whose equality, independence and dignity are being dug away in droves.

What happened? We got a Tory right wing government with no coalition partners to temper them. Forget the 12 MP majority in the House. That didn’t stop them when they put out an Equality Impact Assessment notice announcing Access to Work cuts hours after the election result was announced in May. See the excellent Stop Changes campaign blog for your round up on all things Access to Work related. And make sure you watch the TedX talk by Jenny Sealey for a moving summary of exactly how Deaf and disabled people are being affected by the cuts.

What else? The independent living fund has been scrapped for severely disabled people  despite the high court declaring this illegal. Supposedly funds have been transferred to local councils though a series of freedom of information requests show that many don’t know about it. Two weeks ago we saw DPAC protestors storm the House of Commons which gained great media coverage. Anyone who isn’t sure of exactly what these cuts are going to mean should watch Liz Carr’s speech at the People’s Assembly demo. The government won’t want you to be thinking about incontinence pads and people sitting in their own wee waiting for someone to show up when more budgets cuts are announced on Wednesday 8th July.

NUBSLI has been working hard making representations to various government departments and framework providers who want to see us paid the least amount possible yet still provide a ‘quality service’. This a government who does not believe in professions, independent regulation or quality. Just cost. If it did then the weighting for awarding contracts to private companies would be 100 quality/0 cost or something closer to that than the 40/60 for the first MoJ framework which brought us the disastrous Applied Language Solutions. This allowed a route in for Capita to try and take over a market it has little understanding of and certainly no duty of care to the people receiving the end service. A fact made more obvious since Capita declared at one government stakeholder meeting last year that they could control the interpreting market if given the chance. Not something the Deaf community would ever choose. Or interpreters.

Many frameworks are now being discussed and frighteningly the people that draw them up have no clue. You need professional interpreters in mental health? What do you mean someone with level 3 and no interpreter training will not suffice? We really haven’t moved on.

And on the perpetuation of the myth that CSWs are somehow ok and we’ve all forgotten the work done in the 1990s by the then, more ethical, CACDP… CSW and interpreter apprenticeships are still being discussed, the threat of a CSW register is still around, NDCS (a charity that is supposed to campaign for the best for Deaf children) is part of the ‘BSL coalition’ (along with BDA, Signature and others). Awful misnomer. NDCS advertises funding for BSL language qualifications for CSWs. Maybe a slight admittance there that CSWs are not good enough for Deaf children?  The Deaf children that should be seen as the important future of the Deaf community rather than being let down. The Adept UK machine still rumbles on and no one seems interested in reframing the debate. Why is no one talking about the ideal for Deaf children’s access to education, about what options could be possible then trying to find solutions that are a better than the two tier interpreter/CSW mess we have now. Where are the academics, experts and organisations to come up with something better? This blog aloNe can not address this. It needs a much larger public debate intiated by the very organisations who seem to perpetuate the myth itself.

Of course the existence of this two tier system presents risks in an environment where a new government sees qualified professional interpreters as expensive, unnecessary and replaceable. Since the high profile People’s Assembly demo where NUBSLI interpreters featured all over the media and Deaf people and interpreters stood side by side in protest we have gained strength as a grass roots movement who want the same thing. There are pockets of good work being done by the organisations who serve the Deaf community but they seem mostly absent, too busy  fighting for their own survival amongst the cuts. This is now a grass roots fight for what is right. Deaf people and interpreters: get on board quick. We’ve got work to do and we are all on the Tories’ radar.

NUBSLI launches survey into interpreters’ working conditions

In order to find out the reality of the working conditions of interpreters, NUBSLI has created a survey to ascertain if interpreters have enough work, whether this differs by region, whether they are employed enough and how interpreters feel about their working conditions.

The survey closes at 5pm on Friday 2nd January. If you work as an interpreter and have not got the link please email communications@nubsli.com.

Work and Pensions Select Committee Report Findings Summary

If you haven’t caught up yet with the release of the Work and Pensions Select Committee report and its recommendations, published on 19th December, here is a round up.

With over 350 submissions of evidence to the committee, some in BSL, it was shown just how many people had experienced problems with Access to Work, either as users of the scheme or as professionals supplying a service.

Even the oral evidence sessions caused a furore with no access for Deaf people and some evidence sessions not being televised. Or they were but there was no interpreter present.

The report set out several recommendations which organisations can now use to further lobby ministers to implement.

The report highlighted how damaging actions taken by this government have been and how little consultation they did prior to detrimental changes which could have so easily been avoided:
– imposition of the 30 hour rule for support workers on BSL interpreters leaving Deaf people struggling to employ interpreters who did not want to be employed
– applying guidance as a rule and changing the guidance so frequently that users were left with no knowledge of what it was
– targeting high cost users and cutting support without warning
– imposing review periods of three months leaving people unsure about whether to book support or not
– changing the address to a mail handling centre without notifying anyone so invoices were late by more than two months causing providers to borrow money to pay their mortgages and nursery bills
– there are many more examples…

The Committee is to be applauded on its clarity. NUBSLI has found it hard to gather information when so little is made available by the DWP. In meetings where interpreter organisations are present, internal figures are quoted which when asked for in freedom of information (FOI) requests seem to disappear. In a culture of secrecy and obfuscation it has taken months of work on FOIs by NUBSLI members to get to the bottom of how the AtW budget is worked out and what it is set at along with a general lack of available statistical information. The Office for NationalStatistics has not called the DWP the worst department for nothing. This work is still ongoing as answers to FOIs by the DWP tend to reveal little.

Under this government you can also trace the changing statements made online. In 2012, the government accepted the recommendations made by the Sayce report. After that you can then see via published statements and answers to questions in Hansard that previously protected budgets become protected over longer spending review periods, millions go missing and the same recommendations from Sayce are still being made about how government should view AtW.

Budgets which are protected, then changed to have protected averages over three years amount to a lot less when spend in the first year means budgets in the following years are protected at a far lower amount. Especially when announcements are made in the second year when spend has already occurred. To anyone looking at the figures there was nothing protected. After averages are worked out the AtW budget was actually cut by millions in the very year the government accepted recommendations, made announcements and was effectively cut again the year after.

Another shock this year was the missing millions thankfully picked up again by the Committee. £80 million in fact. This could have nearly doubled the AtW budget, in the way that was talked about as not being possible in the last evidence session by the Minister of State for Disabled People, Mark Harper MP. The previously promised increase in AtW spend has not materialised. What is more shocking is that the only people campaigning about this are Stop Changes and the organisations involved in supporting the campaign such as DPAC and NUBSLI.

There was another £15 million promised that later, in announcements, become spread over three years which does not appear to be included in the spend.

For organisations and parts of the media to talk about interpreter salaries without challenging the government about cuts, or worse being in agreement with making cuts, has done a disservice to the Deaf community and has been nothing but damaging. At best this is ignorance, at worse working to a government agenda that align’s with ones own rather than the wider community.

There are recommendations by Sayce that are elaborated on in the Committee’s report such as the way AtW is viewed by the government and how budgets are calculated and spent.

In summary:
– AtW produces a return on investment by way of lower benefit claims and should be treated as such within overall DWP budgets (look up the DEL-AME switch)
– AtW produces a return on investment by way of increased tax payers in work so HM Treasury could give money back to DWP to reflect this

Let’s hope we do not have a repeat of 2012 where recommendations are ‘accepted’, statements made but yet the reality gets worse.

Let’s hope we see a materialisation of the £95 million and budgets are actually doubled as promised.

Let’s hope, really hope, that everyone agrees that talk of cuts are nonsensical, government is challenged on this, that they see AtW as an investment and we should all work together to make the recommendations in the report a reality.

More information:

Work and Select Committee press release and report

Stop Changes response to Committee’s report

NUBSLI response to the Committee’s report

DPAC blog

Putting It Into Context: Looking at the UK Interpreters’ Union Through an International Lens

Brett BestBrett Best is an English/ASL/BSL interpreter based in London and working globally. She is particularly interested in the development of the interpreting profession and establishing strong relationships between signed language interpreters and the Deaf community.

I am currently studying in the European Masters in Sign Language Interpreting (EUMASLI) program. This unique program is a joint endeavor between Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, the University of Applied Sciences Magdeburg-Stendal in Germany, and Humak University of Applied Sciences in Finland. Twenty-two professional interpreters from ten different countries meet for several block seminars in each of the host countries over two-and-a-half years. The program has a focus on interpreting theory, research, International Sign and the development of the interpreting profession. In a recent block seminar at Heriot-Watt University, Liz Scott Gibson lectured on the importance of sign language interpreters lobbying policy makers and how to do so effectively.

A pertinent take-home message was that alliances are important because they enable the ability to collectively put forth a more powerful voice in order to have perspectives on relevant issues heard. One example is a strong interpreter association. The room was full of anecdotes that quickly put this consideration into an international context. In Greece, for example, I learned that interpreters working in the community sector may wait for up to six months before being paid for services rendered, and the calls on the interpreter association to assert an improvement is routinely met with a response deflecting responsibility by asking that the request be directed to the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters (EFSLI). Clearly, it is important that the national interpreter association have the power and the ability to enact change. This example especially served to remind me that when it comes to sign language interpreters’ working rights, the pressure to make a difference needs to be asserted collectively.

There are two BSL interpreters in the EUMASLI program. When discussion came around to the UK context, our international colleagues were surprised and a bit perplexed to learn that we have two different professional associations. I am a member of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI); my BSL interpreter colleague in this program is a member of Visual Language Professionals (VLP). We are both, however, members of the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI). I quickly realised over the course of this session on sign language interpreters lobbying policy makers that NUBSLI is in many ways exactly what is needed for sign language interpreters in the UK. In the short time since it has been founded, it has already done a great deal toward politically asserting sign language interpreters’ working rights. One reason for its effectiveness may be that it is our two associations combined. NUBSLI is not an association, but it is the collective voice that we absolutely must have if we are to be heard by those making the decisions that affect our working conditions.

When my BSL colleague and I mentioned that we have a union, some interesting case stories emerged from around the globe. For example, there was a successful union initiative in the United States that organised Video Relay Service (VRS) interpreters in demanding a fair hourly rate, and a group of interpreters working for a television station in Spain called on the local interpreter association which then worked jointly with a trade union to successfully prevent unfavourable cuts at their work place. Unions, it seems, may have the metaphorical teeth that so many associations seem to be lacking, teeth that are needed to chew through the bureaucracy of political recognition and change.

As a sign language interpreter working in the UK, you need personal indemnity insurance, the support of colleagues, and opportunities to exchange ideas. For these things, join ASLI or VLP. As an interpreter, you also need fair and safe working terms and conditions and a reasonable rate of pay in order for the profession to remain financially viable. To help ensure this going forward, join NUBSLI. I really think that as NUBSLI continues to develop, it will become a shining international example of successful representation for sign language interpreters lobbying policy makers. Perhaps what the Greeks need is a union. I know that I am very grateful that we have one.