The Ministerial statement issued this week by Mark Harper, Minister against Disabled People, announced measures which will discriminate against Deaf BSL users and those with higher cost support needs by introducing a cap on Access To Work packages. The statement mentions personal budgets and the idea of giving greater flexibility and choice in how ATW customers use their packages. Deaf and disabled people are under no illusions that this will mean anything but a further driving down of support costs. There is no recognition within the statement about the value of investing in Deaf and disabled people’s employment or the proven economic benefits for the state of Access to Work. Instead there are references to taxpayers money and the implication, consistent with the cultural shift we have seen within ATW over the last year or so, that Deaf and disabled people don’t have a right to aspire to equal life chances due to cost.
Campaigners at this week’s StopChanges2ATS meeting commented that the government may as well just send us all back to the workhouse. Already the changes to ATW have pushed Deaf and disabled people out of professional positions, careers and businesses they have spent decades building. The pressure on employers to “redesign” jobs to reduce support needs is pushing Deaf and disabled people into unskilled, lower paid work.
Harper’s statement also confirms the introduction of a framework agreement which will mean the outsourcing and privatisation of BSL interpreting. A similar framework adopted four years ago in the Ministry of Justice has been a categoric disaster. The framework for translating and interpreting currently being proposed is entirely unworkable, will drive down standards and leave Deaf BSL users without the communication support they need not only day to day but also in life or death situations interacting with for example hospital or social services. In a survey carried out by the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters, 48% of interpreters surveyed said they are considering leaving the profession.
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