4 Guidance on "Support Workers"
and the impacts on BSL interpretation |
67. The very large majority of written evidence to
the inquiry was from deaf people who use AtW to fund British Sign
Language (BSL) interpretation to help them in their jobs. Many
of these witnesses told us that they relied heavily on AtW and
were appreciative of the support it provided. For example, Henry
Skinner wrote that:
I have used AtW for my work and found it very
useful for my career and in developing links to a wider range
of people. Without it I would be out of work, at home on benefits
with the possibility of low self-esteem and motivation to improve
Marije Davidson, who uses BSL and a range of other
communication support, told us that:
Access to Work has enabled me to pursue a successful
career through the voluntary and public sector. Without it, I
would be without a job, unable to maintain my family and participate
actively in the local community. Having a job in which I can flourish
and I can make a positive contribution to society is important
for my self-esteem, health and well-being.
We received numerous similar submissions.
68. However, almost all of the submissions we received
from deaf people raised very serious concerns about the way in
which DWP was applying guidance on the funding of full-time "Support
Workers", and the impact this was having on the provision
of effective BSL interpretation.
In this chapter, we consider the relevant paragraph of the guidance
and the rationale behind it; the way in which it has been implemented
by DWP; and its impacts on AtW funded BSL interpretation.
The 30 hour "rule"
69. The relevant paragraph in the guidance is set
If a Support Worker is required full time, for
example 30 hours or more a week, Access to Work will normally
fund on the basis of an annual salary rather than an Agency worker
employed on an hourly basis.
The evidence we received suggested that this guidance
had recently been stringently applied to BSL support; some AtW
users who required 30 hours per week or more of interpretation
reported having been told by DWP that they, or their employer,
must employ a dedicated full-time interpreter on a salaried
basis. Witnesses invariably referred to the guidance as the 30
hour rule. Many reported being told by DWP that the maximum
permissible annual salary for a full-time interpreter was £30-£35,000,
despite this not being set out in the guidance.
70. At the same time, the evidence suggested that
the guidance had been applied somewhat inconsistently. Numerous
witnesses had been told that they could continue to book freelance
or agency interpreters, but that hourly rates for BSL interpretation
would be capped, based on the maximum permissible annual salary.
Hourly rates which witnesses had been told were acceptable for
reimbursement ranged between £18 and £25.
Marije Davidson emphasised that the current problems were not
only affecting those who require full-time BSL. DWP had told her,
and others who use a range of communication support and therefore
require less than 30 hours per week of BSL, that rates at which
the Department would reimburse interpreters had been capped at
71. The relevant paragraph has been in the guidance
for some time but it appears to have been widely implemented,
at least in relation to BSL interpretation, only since 2012 for
new applicants, and since 2013 for ongoing awards which had come
up for annual review. DeafAtW, a campaigning organisation set
up in response to the concerns around this issue, reported that
service users had perceived a notable change in DWP's policy and
general approach to BSL interpretation from summer 2013. It reported
that AtW Advisers no longer applied discretion in the application
of the guidance; correspondence dating from this time from DWP
to AtW users gives the impression that the guidance was effectively
being applied as a rule.
Impact on sign language interpretation
72. The way in which the 30 hour guidance and the
caps on hourly rates for BSL interpretation have been applied
appears to have had a profoundly detrimental impact on the ability
of many deaf BSL users to source the effective interpretation
they need to do their jobs. Numerous witnesses reported that it
had resulted in their AtW support budget being reduced by 50%
or more, leaving them unable to source appropriate support or
with interpreters' invoices which they were unable to pay. A number
of witnesses were deeply concerned that they would be unable to
continue in their jobs if DWP could not be persuaded to change
its approach. Susan
Scott-Parker of the BDF gave an example of a deaf service user
whose hours of AtW support had recently been cut:
] they have now been told by Access to
Work that they can only communicate four days a week. They have
to have a non-communication day. What employer is going to suddenly
go, "I cannot talk to you today; you cannot go to any meetings
today"? It is a false economy, because that person could
then end up losing their job, but it looks as though you have
saved a bit of money.
The British Deaf Association told us that several
deaf people had already left their jobs due to AtW issues. At
least one individual deaf person told us that they had recently
left their job.
73. Most witnesses pointed to two fundamental problems
with the approach being applied by DWP. Firstly, £18 to £25
per hour is substantially below the current market rate at which
effective BSL support can be sourced for a variety of work situations.
Rates vary according to the specific work and the technical expertise
required of the interpreter, and there are regional variations
and other factors, but typical rates appear to range between £37
and £45 per hour.
74. Secondly, witnesses argued that there are a number
of sound reasons why employing a single interpreter on a full-time
basis invariably suits neither the deaf person nor the interpreter.
AtW service users told us that full-time salaried support does
not offer the flexibility needed to meet the requirement for varied
types of communication support at different points of the working
day or week; deaf people often need a range of support, depending
on the specific work situation, for example a mix of BSL; note-taking;
and speech-to-text reporting. Interpreters were clear that working
with a single deaf person would harm their professional development
and lead to them becoming "complacent, stale and de-motivated."
The Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI) reported
that in a recent survey of BSL interpreters 86% said that they
would not consider a salaried position.
Suspension of the 30 hour guidance
for new applicants
75. The concerns expressed by deaf people and their
representative organisations led to DWP temporarily suspending
the relevant part of the AtW guidance, in relation to new applications,
for three months from June 2014. The then Minister (Mike Penning
MP) acknowledged concerns about the 30 hour guidance's practical
effect, "notably on the ability of some deaf customers to
source appropriate BSL support." 
It was later confirmed that users with ongoing awards who had
experienced problems could ask for a "full review of their
However, some witnesses subsequently told us that difficulties
had continued despite this announcement.
Controlling the costs of BSL
76. The current Minister was clear that the guidance
had been applied in the way described in an attempt to control
the costs of BSL support, which, as noted in chapter 2, account
for a disproportionately large amount of total AtW expenditure.
Some 3,430 people received AtW funded BSL interpretation in 2013/14
(around 9% of the total caseload), at a total cost of around £25
million (24% of total AtW expenditure).
77. Representatives of the BSL interpreting profession
acknowledged that it was perfectly reasonable for DWP to look
to control spending on BSL and ensure that it was provided in
the most cost-effective way possible. Dr Jules Dickinson, representing
ASLI, believed that technological solutions, including Video Relay
Systems (VRS), which allow deaf people to communicate by video
phone using an interpreter in a remote location, had the potential
to provide more cost-effective support in some situations.
She also agreed that it was reasonable for DWP to set a maximum
permissible hourly, half-daily or daily rate for AtW funded BSL
interpretation and indicated that ASLI was willing to collaborate
with the Department to set such rates.
However, as far as she was aware, there had been very little meaningful
consultation on these issues to date, even since the announcement
of the suspension of the guidance.
78. The Minister emphasised the need to control high-cost
forms of support such as BSL, while maintaining effective employment
support and ensuring that people currently using AtW are able
to stay in their jobs. He reported that he had had some "initial
conversations" with representative organisations, including
Action on Hearing Loss, which were "very keen to work in
a cooperative way to try to come up with a better solution."
Mr Harper noted that DWP had "set up a forum with stakeholders
and customers where we can discuss operational changes and guidance."
He also indicated that the Department was considering establishing
a specialist team to deal with AtW service users with particularly
complex and high-cost support needs.
79. The way in which DWP has recently applied
the Access to Work guidance on full-time Support Workers, and
capped the hourly rate at which it is prepared to reimburse Support
Workers' costs, has had a profoundly detrimental impact on many
service users, particularly deaf people who require a significant
amount of British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation in order
to do their jobs effectively. DWP's recognition of this adverse
impact, and the temporary suspension of the guidance, is welcome;
however, its stringent application of the guidance in this context
demonstrated a lack of understanding of how BSL interpretation
is currently provided and highlights the need for much improved
consultation with stakeholders prior to significant changes to
service delivery in the future.
80. We recommend that DWP fulfil its commitment
to undertake full and proper award reviews in all cases where
service users believe that the guidance on full-time Support Workers,
or caps on hourly rates, as applied to BSL interpretation, has
rendered them unable to source effective BSL interpretation appropriate
to their needs at work.
81. We recommend that DWP re-issue the guidance
on full-time Support Workers, making it clearer that reimbursement
of costs on the basis of an annual salary, rather than an hourly,
half-daily or daily rate, should be considered on a case-by-case
basis, and only applied in circumstances where it reflects the
reality of how effective support can be provided. We further recommend
that the guidance explicitly state that this does not typically
apply to BSL interpretation.
82. We recommend that DWP consult the BSL interpreting
profession, through the Association of Sign Language Interpreters
and the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters,
to establish suitable maximum permissible hourly, half-daily and
daily rates for BSL interpretation funded by Access to Work, based
on robust research. The Government should also consult formally
on improving the efficiency of the market for BSL interpreting
services across the public sector. This consultation should consider
steps which could be taken to increase the number of BSL interpreters
in the UK.
83. We recommend that DWP establish a specially
trained team to deal with high-cost ongoing Access to Work awards,
including those for BSL Interpretation. This team should receive
intensive training in deaf awareness and on the full range of
communication support options, including the latest technological
innovations and the most cost-effective solutions. DWP staff and
Access to Work service users should be encouraged to consider
technological solutions to communication support, where it is
appropriate to needs and cost-effective.
84. The recent problems in relation to the 30
hour guidance have, in part, arisen from a lack of consultation
and engagement with service users. We therefore recommend that
DWP makes it its policy to consult on all significant future changes
to Access to Work policy and guidance, through the newly established
Access to Work stakeholders' forum, and to undertake much more
effective communication about changes to the programme. We request
that the Department sets out, in its response to this Report,
the membership of the forum, and the processes by which stakeholders
will be consulted on future changes.
72 Henry Skinner (ATW0004) Back
Marije Davidson (ATW0161) Back
See, for example, Mencap (ATW0254); Equal Lives (ATW0248); Solar
Bear (ATW0211); Camilla Arnold (ATW0204) Back
See, for example: Jackie Wan (ATW0333); Fiona Garfield (ATW0323);
Faye Stewart (ATW0320); Maria Barroso (ATW0318); Olivier Jamin
(ATW0316); Yasmin Kovic (ATW0312); Rachael Parker (ATW0319); Grant
Thornton (ATW0288); Steven Wynne (ATW0264); Solutions 4 Community
Support (ATW0245); Sam Calder (ATW0220) Back
Access to Work Guidance, version 24, para 366 Back
See, for example: South West London and St. George's Mental Health
Trust (ATW0334); Jackie Wan (ATW0333); Dara Trainor (ATW0112) Back
See, for example: DeafAtW (ATW0343); Maria Barroso (ATW0318);
Josef Baines (ATW0313) Back
DeafAtW (ATW0343) Back
See, for example, Julian Peedle-Calloo (ATW0104); Rachael Hayes
British Deaf Association (ATW0222); Alexandra Shaw (ATW0050) Back
Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ATW0160) Back
HC Deb, 10 June 2014, cols 45-46WS Back
HC Deb, 16 June 2014, col 343 Back
Deaf AtW, the Stop Changes to Access to Work Campaign and National
Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (ATW0342); DeafAtW
DWP Freedom of Information Requests 4088/2014; 4093/2014 Back