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!

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.

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.

Yellow Fever: Causing Confusion over Registered Interpreters

Sign Language Interpreters in the UK are regulated by the NRCPD. The main, and only for most, professional membership association is ASLI. The differences are clear cut. One regulates: provides a register, deals with complaints and looks at how to become a stronger regulator to ensure that in future the profession will be protected. One supports and develops the profession by providing training, CPD, information and guidance, representation at all levels and strong networks of interpreters so we are all in contact locally and nationally.

The NRPCD could still do some more work on publicising the register. They initiated the Sign Safe campaign this year, trademarking the term along with the yellow registration badge. With the additional hard work of interpreters the message has been getting out to the Deaf community: an NRCPD registered interpreter has a ‘yellow badge’. A registered interpreter is a mark of someone who has been through training and is safe to practice. Someone who turns up at an appointment with no badge is someone who has not yet gone through training or is not committed to providing a certain safeguard for Deaf consumers, or to those bookings interpreters, where users can submit a complaint.

The system may not be perfect but it is still important we have faith in that system and all work towards improving it.

Even interpreters who have been long time opponents of the register have joined up in recent years. We have come to a watershed moment. The NRCPD have made a few unpopular decisions recently causing uproar. This is partly due to the legality of CRB checks. It is apparently safer to ask interpreters to hold their own CRB checks and to ask the consumer to check them. Not easy when not using a reputable agency, not easy for Deaf people trying to book direct. This decision is in part due to the government changes from CRB to DBS checks and the decision that the spoken language interpreters’ register, NRPSI, could not hold details. (NB: NRPSI after representations from professional associations now includes standard CRB/DBS checks and provides details of security clearances in their listings.) All interpreters know how easy it is for them to be in situations where they are left alone with the vulnerable. The government is of the opinion that interpreters will be in the presence of other professionals at all times which is not the reality. An unscrupulous interpreter could very easily do a lot of damage, were they that way inclined, to the Deaf person they are with. The naivety of the government in making these blanket decisions about interpreters is astounding. They clearly have not consulted nor listened.

Just as we have seen over the last 18 months, the continuing solidarity of NRPSI registered interpreters, despite criticisms or government changes, is still as apparent today. They are supporting and publicising their register in order to distinguish trained professionals from those with no interpreting qualifications.

All Sign Language Interpreters seem to want the same thing: regulation, an independent register, more protection of our title and profession; we just cannot agree on how to do it. Perhaps it is easier for us to rally against each other? Perhaps the only time some of us feel we have a voice is when we are arguing with each other? Or perhaps some of us just do not want to work together or know how. Just as we have seen a split in those supporting the register, we have a seen a split in those willing to be part of ASLI.

A few years ago an alternative membership organisation was set up under the guise of disagreeing with compulsory CPD, a move that later saw a u-turn decision usually only seen in government departments. This very cheap organisation, offering no benefits bar insurance and a badge, attracted interpreters by cost who did not value being part of a profession. Whereas for even less than the membership fee, at around £35, interpreters can get insurance from companies such as Hiscox.

Why bother to mention this association when there are bigger things to focus on? One wonders why interpreters would support an organisation such as this and what the motivation is behind the latest move which does not support the interpreting consumer’s need for clarity, undermines the register and is more evidence of a lack of support for the profession: the latest membership badge is yellow.

 

Access to Government

A Deaf person may need to contact the government for any number of reasons depending on their circumstances. Those applying for the new Personal Independence Payment benefit fill in a written form and must state a telephone number to be called on to arrange a medical assessment. The company sourced to run these applications, ATOS, is well known for its incapabilities and the inherent discrimination they are causing via their application processes. Another outsourcing blip. At the medical assessments the assessors, who are not doctors, have a list of questions. If a person has stated they are Deaf they are asked to face the wall whilst the assessor shouts at them to prove they are Deaf. Not only is this ridiculous it is embarrassing, discriminatory and surely above all this task proves nothing.

Dealing with job centres are bad enough if you can hear. There are often numerous phone numbers, different departments deal with different tasks and finding the right one is a stressful experience. Often those with queries are told to use the phone. Not helpful for anyone who is Deaf. On top of this, the contract for interpreting services is another outsourcing nightmare with unregistered signers being used to save money. A false economy when it does not resolve the communication barrier and if it leaves a Deaf person more likely to be out of work, it just costs the state more money. Some of the employment schemes the government funds refuse to book interpreters and the staff that work in these private companies often have never met a Deaf person. The ones run specifically for Deaf people are not necessarily any better with evidence of unregistered users of sign language being used for calls to companies and job interviews. Not empowering for the Deaf person and much less likely to get them the best job they can get.

Access to work, for those who do not know, is a funding scheme in the UK designed to help Deaf and disabled people into work and enable them to stay there should be the highlight of the UK system for Deaf people. Not all countries have funding for interpreters at work. However, despite this being the UK government’s largest underspent budget, it can be incredibly hard and stressful for a Deaf person to even make a claim, let alone get interpreters for their agreed rate, speak to their advisor, fill out the claim forms or if necessary complain or appeal a decision.

There are some well-known cases of fraud in the Deaf community that are coming to court and several agencies or organisations have been investigated. The knock on effect being tighter rules on claims and some rather strange recommendations that are now suggested by Access to Work advisors. It is clear neither Deaf people nor interpreters were consulted on whether these would work. For example, a Deaf person awarded with over 30 hours of interpreting per week is now being asked to employ an interpreter rather than use freelance interpreters, who are generally cheaper than agency staff. This may work for some, for others it brings the added problems of HR and administration as well as the 15% on costs associated with providing someone with employment in paying their pension contributions, training, registration and insurance. What happens too if the employed interpreter goes on long-term sick, maternity or paternity leave? This passes the burden of responsibility or costs unfairly to the employer or sometimes directly to the Deaf person. Interpreters are familiar with attending job interviews where it is clear the Deaf person will not get employed as no matter whether the Deaf person is the best candidate for the job or how much information is given about Access to Work the employer sees costs or responsibility as an extra hurdle and the job is from that moment lost.

It seems that the more the guidelines change to benefit those running the government funded scheme, the more discrimination occurs for Deaf people. An irony as the scheme is designed to alleviate it.

There are national guidelines in existence but the local business centres tend to create their own. It is unknown as to whether this is due to staff turnover, ignorance or a lack of internal communications. For years reports have surfaced of Deaf staff in the same team, with similar jobs, working similar hours, with the same Access to Work adviser who can all be awarded vastly different rates for interpreters. This can often leave one with the best Registered Interpreters and excellent access to their working environment and others in the team having to use ‘signers’ who are not yet even fluent.

Some Deaf people are told to use government recommended agencies. These are usually those having won government contracts or status as a preferred supplier. In the usual vein when it comes to outsourcing, this equates to a cheaper surface cost for this government department, less quality for everyone else. ‘Surface cost’ as the real cost is often not cheaper than using an interpreter, the personnel provided can not do the job at hand and the Deaf person does not get the access they were supposed to get resulting in a waste of funding.

None of this blogpost will be new to any Deaf person or interpreter in the UK. What it highlights is how blanket government policy in the UK can be counter-productive. The UK could be the envy of the world when it comes to access to government services for Deaf people but we seem to have slipped back in time. Internationally Deaf people are getting more access, here it seems to go backwards. In a recent challenge a spokesperson from Access to Work said no Deaf people had ever complained. It could be because Deaf people do not complain as they do not want to lose the claim they have fought hard to get. The other obvious reason is because there is no access to the complaints system.

Five simple recommendations for government departments:

1) Ensure contractors are not going to discriminate against those using your services.

2) Only advocate the use of Registered Interpreters to save money.

3) Properly consult with Deaf and interpreter organisations about how to improve efficiency as well as saving on costs. ASLI have provided information, attended meetings and have had government contacts for years. The BDA is currently asking for evidence. Avoid asking agencies or those likely to make a profit from funding as this will result in skewed information.

4) Improve internal communications so that local departments are aware of national guidelines.

5) Ensure your complaints procedures are accessible for Deaf people.

If you have any other recommendations or information about good practice from your country or field of work please add them to the comments section below.

BSL Presentation on Interpreters: A Change of Contract or a Change of Heart

A big thank you to Paul Neal of Neal Communications Agency (NCA) for making this video.

It is a completely accurate description, in BSL (transcript in English available), of what is currently happening to the sign language interpreting profession in the UK.

The registration system for interpreters is often misunderstood with Deaf people confusing level 6 in BSL as qualified and not realising interpreters need to complete interpreter training as well in order to register.

There is a good summary of the risks of using signers or CSWs, not only the obvious immediate risk to the Deaf community, but the short and long-term risks to the interpreting profession as a whole and the subsequent effect that will have on Deaf access if these trends are allowed to continue.

Other agencies seem to have misunderstood, are unaware of these risks or are actively using this to increase their own profits. Shockingly there are some Deaf-led agencies guilty of this, who do not have the insight to see the damage they do to their own community.

For me, NCA is the benchmark other agencies, especially Deaf-led, should aspire to follow as an agency with a complete understanding of the market, the risks to the interpreting profession and most importantly to the Deaf community we are all supposed to be here to serve.