in Access to Work

Teresa Pearce MP restates her support for Stop Changes To Access To Work

Reblogged from the excellent Stop Changes 2 AtW blog…

Read at the National Union for British Sign Language Interpreter (NUBSLI) national meeting. 

“The purpose of the Access to Work (AtW) programme has always been to ensure that people are given the support they need in order to reach their full potential in the workplace. Unfortunately, the Government’s changes to the scheme have had a devastating impact on claimants. As both a local MP and a Member of the Work & Pensions Select Committee I am aware of cases where people have lost their jobs, struggled to get assistance, been subject to unexplained delays, and found their working days blighted by anxiety as the support on which they rely has been taken away from them. It is clear that the Government’s changes have made it harder for deaf and deafblind in the workplace. This is unacceptable.

Recent news that the Government plans to cap budgets from October 2015 demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the whole ethos underpinning the AtW programme.  This comes on top of the Government’s previous misguided decision to implement an arbitrary “30 hour rule.” The needs of deaf and deafblind people are often rich and varied. They may need the support of a number of different communication professionals and interpreters to meet their different needs at different times. Yet, the restrictions imposed by the Government deny claimants the flexibility they need. I know of a number of instances where deaf and deafblind people have built up excellent working relationships with their communication support workers and interpreters,  but these partnerships have been cut short by inexcusable delays and changes to the AtW programme that have left claimants without the necessary funds to be able to pay their interpreters. This is unacceptable.

I have been a strong supporter of the Stop Changes to Access to Work campaign since it began, and I was pleased to be a part of the cross-party group of MPs reviewing the programme as a member of the Work & Pensions Select Committee. The Committee’s report, published in December 2014, rightly highlighted a number of concerns about the administration of the AtW programme and the Government’s changes. Whilst it was announced earlier this month that the “30 hour rule” will be removed from April 2015, the fact remains that, during its suspension, many people have struggled to source the interpreting support they need. The DWP must improve the manner in which it communicates decisions with claimants, and explain eligibility criteria in a way that can be easily understood. It is not right that people in need of this support are having to chase for answers that will affect their working lives. This must change.

More recently, the Government is failing to take heed of concerns raised by the interpreting community about the Crown Commercial Service’s (CCS’s) proposed National Framework for Interpreting Services. Whilst Francis Maude claims the new framework will “provide users of British Sign Language translators with a high-quality and cost-effective service,” it seems it would only compromise the quality of support provision and seriously undermine professional standards. Given that deaf, deafblind people, and BSL interpreters have already suffered months of uncertainty following AtW changes, this must be reviewed urgently.

The AtW programme should be a source of celebration. The DWP should be able to roll it out as a great success story. Yet, to date, it is falling far short of fulfilling its purpose, which is to remove barriers and provide the employment support necessary to make the workplace accessible for all. The Government is failing to recognise the important contributions made by deaf, deafblind people and BSL interpreters in the workplace, and this cannot continue.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend NUBSLI and everyone here today for their relentless commitment to raising awareness of this issue and the injustices of the Government’s actions.I would also like to restate my support for the Stop Changes to Access to Work campaign and the Scrap the Framework campaign. I will continue to speak out about these issues whenever I have the opportunity to do so.”