Disaster capitalism

By NUBSLI | Published on 17 November 2020

Capitalising on Covid? Surely not!

For most of us, the idea that someone might use a global pandemic for their own gain, is an uncomfortable one. Who would use a disaster, when people are dying in large numbers and others are struggling to meet their basic needs? Sadly, this isn’t a new idea.

Disaster capitalism is:

“the practice [by a government, regime, etc] of taking advantage of a major disaster to adopt neoliberal economic policies that the population would be less likely to accept under normal circumstances” source


For those that don’t fully understand what neoliberalism means, it is a policy model that is meant to transfer economic control from public to private sectors .

This is exactly what we are now seeing from our Conservative government, as they hand out contracts for test and trace and PPE to profit hungry private companies. But why is a Nub piece talking about disaster capitalism? We are seeing it in our sector!

VRS–the new normal?

NUBSLI has become increasingly alarmed at the messaging we have been hearing recently regarding VRS (Video Relay Services). Commissioners and some agencies are seeing this as a route to drastically reduce the spend on BSL provision. They believe they can force interpreters to work by incremental payments and make VRS become the “new normal”.

To be absolutely clear and for the avoidance of any doubt, NUBSLI has no problem with VRS services. They are a valuable addition to the services that BSL interpreters provide, when offered as a choice. What we don’t want to see is VRS becoming the standard for all Interpreting services. This won’t work, and doesn’t meet everyone’s needs, and in higher risk domains, could even be dangerous for our clients.

What can interpreters do?

If you we are asked about VRS Interpreting in different settings, it is important that we are all able to explain to professionals why it is essential that this is only ever offered as a choice. Services are often told by the agencies that VRS will definitely meet their clients’ needs without any understanding that BSL isn’t the same as a spoken language (where using a phone may suffice, although this too is often insufficient).

NUBSLI has launched our “RightsReclaim” campaign and as part of this will be offering free training via our union networks to a range of professionals. We will also be producing materials for you to share with professionals to educate them on the appropriate use of VRS and also the best ways they can meet deaf client’s needs (the novel idea of asking them, will be included!).

For more on our #RightsReclaim campaign, visit our campaign page.

If you are interested in writing a piece for the nub, please do get in touch: communications@nubsli.com.