NUBSLI, with the support of Unite, have released a report into the effects that framework agreements and cuts to interpreting are having on the Deaf community. Unite the Union’s press release states:
Deaf people’s ability to access public services is being restricted leading to distress and potentially life threatening situations, according to a report by the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI), a branch of Unite.
The report titled, ‘Dossier of Disgrace‘, warns that UK government cost-cutting and the introduction of national framework agreements has led to skilled British Sign Language (BSL)/English interpreters leaving the profession and a poorer service for deaf people when they access public services.
BSL/English interpreters provide an essential service in providing communication support between public service providers and deaf people. This can range from interpreting in hospital and GP appointments to legal and justice matters, as well as social care, child protection and mental health.
In 2015 the government introduced framework agreements to govern the provision of interpreting and translation across local and central government. Bookings that were previously arranged through specialist, often local agencies, or with interpreters directly, are now more often than not awarded through contracts with large multinational, spoken language agencies.
According to the report, framework agreements have resulted in agencies slashing interpreters’ fees leading to interpreters leaving the profession, while quality standards are compromised to maximise profits by using unqualified and unregistered individuals instead of qualified, highly skilled interpreters.
In some instances no interpreters have been provided for statutory services such as child protection meetings, court and medical appointments, while deaf defendants in court cases have been misrepresented in court by inexperienced interpreters.
Commenting, Unite national officer Siobhan Endean, said: “British Sign Language interpreters provide an essential service when deaf people access and navigate their way around public services such as our courts system, health service and social services by ensuring hearing professionals are able to communicate effectively with their deaf service users.
“This support is now at breaking point because of the government’s ill-judged and misconceived introduction of national framework agreements which has seen agencies move in and put profit before people.”
NUBSLI Branch Secretary, Samantha Riddle, adds:
It has led to fees for interpreters being slashed by as much as a third, forcing experienced professionals out of the profession, in addition to corners being cut and poorer levels of support for deaf people.
This has not only resulted in distress and restricted access to public services for deaf people, but has also led to potentially life-threatening situations with inexperienced and unqualified interpreters being relied upon in medical situations.
Siobhan Endean continues: “The government needs to urgently review the framework agreements which now govern the provision of interpreting and translation services in addition to the role of agencies in providing a vital service to vulnerable adults in the public sector.
“Ministers must also establish minimum standards for the provision of British Sign Language interpreting services and re-establish the direct booking of British Sign Language/English interpreters by key public sector bodies to improve quality assurance.”