A snapshot of the profession: survey of interpreters’ working conditions

By NUBSLI | Published on 31 May 2018

Last updated on May 26th, 2023 at 10:53 pm

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This is the third annual report on the results of NUBSLI’s survey of British Sign Language (BSL) / English Interpreters’ Working Conditions. NUBSLI will continue to collate and publish this data in order to monitor trends and changes in the profession.

The demographic profile of respondents in NUBSLI’s 2015 and 2016 surveys are similar for gender, age, home region, and percentages of qualified and trainee interpreters as this year’s results.

For the third consecutive year NUBSLI has confirmed a trend towards the driving down of interpreters’ terms and working conditions by public service providers.  This has reached a point respondents often described as unsustainable for them personally, and for the profession. The changes that have already taken place are having a demonstrable impact on interpreters’ morale, and this is cited as a key reason for interpreters considering exiting the profession, or suggesting that they would no longer recommend interpreting as a viable career path to other people. NUBSLI intends to undertake focused work on supporting new colleagues whilst undergoing their training, to ensure knowledge and best practice is shared at this early stage.

Interpreters expressed fears that Deaf people living in rural or remote areas may find they are no longer able to acquire interpreting services funded by the public purse.  Examples were given of travel costs being cut, or of being pressured into taking all-inclusive fees, which do not cover their costs, especially for some respondents who cited having to travel 2-3 hours for one booking. ATW was also cited as causing issues for people as travel is capped at 25ppm rather than the HMRC approved 45ppm. One interpreter told us that they now earn less than they did in 2008, and as a result are considering leaving the profession.

Another issue identified as problematic, as in previous years, was the decreasing recognition of the value of specialist skills and experience, coupled with a reduction in variable remuneration for interpreting professionals with specialist skills such as mental health or child protection. A number of respondents also identified that large, multi-language agencies tend to treat interpreters as a commodity, using a first come-first served system to fill their bookings.

NUBSLI will continue to work closely with our members to campaign for profession standard fees to be paid, and conditions to be fair, and will work to increase engagement with contract holders and commissioners in order to make clear the detrimental impact of such changes to the profession.

Read the report