In protecting our terms and conditions and rates of pay, we are ensuring that deaf people are able to access fully qualified and suitable skilled professionals. Our profession, like many others, is under threat from government cuts. BSL interpreters are predominately funded by government in areas such as health, police, courts and workplace support.
Changes to Access to Work
The recent changes that are being made to Access to Work (AtW) provision are having a huge impact on Deaf BSL users and as a subsequent result, BSL interpreters. AtW is a discretionary grant that is awarded to individuals to provide support and access to the workplace. This can be in the form of a piece of equipment or a support worker, a category that includes BSL/English Interpreters.
Until recently people were able to access full time support if required. In 2011, new guidance was added to the AtW Guidance, that people requiring support for more than 30 hours per week would normally be funded on the basis they recruit a full time support worker. For the profession of interpreting, the DWP decided what a salaried rate should be with no consultation or research evidence and proceeded to enforce this on Deaf BSL customers.
A salaried rate for someone who is freelance isn’t workable. BSL Interpreters are highly skilled, often training for 7 years to qualify. As self-employed professionals, they absorb many costs as part of their freelance fee, such as initial training costs, Continuous Professional Development (CPD), holiday and sick pay, registration with professional groups/bodies, insurance, and often travel.
Further, in many cases, Co Workers are no longer being provided where required, placing BSL interpreters at risk of developing Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) which is often a life-long condition.
Effects of these changes
These changes prevent Deaf people from being able to get the qualified interpreters they require, risk contributing to an eroding of pay that renders interpreting a unsustainable career, and potentially places interpreters at risk.
Barriers to employment already make a Deaf person seven times less likely to get a job than a hearing person. These changes further jeopardise Deaf people’s ability to find, keep and progress at work.
The government rhetoric of getting people into work and off the welfare state seems to have been forgotten with the decision to effectively cut this grant.
Nicky is a qualified British Sign Language interpreter and Branch Secretary at NUBSLI.