Fears over future of sign language interpreter services for UK’s 100,000 deaf population

18 March 2015

From Unite: Fears have been expressed that sign language interpreting services for the UK’s 100,000 deaf population could plummet, if further privatisation takes place, Unite, the country’s largest union, has warned.

Unite is concerned that downward pressure on costs and standards could mean staff with fewer – or even no – qualifications could make mistakes when a deaf person is having a vital medical procedure or on trial where a miscarriage of justice could happen landing them in prison.

The National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI), a branch of Unite, wants full consultation on a new framework document being considered by the Crown Commercial Services (CCS), the government procurement department. Ideally, it would like the framework document scrapped.

A recent snapshot survey by NUBSLI said that 48 per cent of those who responded are considering leaving the profession. Of those who were considering leaving, 93 per cent were qualified and about half of those had over 10 years’ experience.

NUBSLI said that the framework document will open the door for further privatisation of the service which could adversely impact on the UK’s 1,100 sign language interpreters with big private companies driving out the smaller agencies which commission the interpreters.

NUBSLI argues that monopolies could be created, and offering unsustainable wages could effectively de-professionalise interpreting leaving deaf people with no access.

Unite regional officer for NUBSLI  Andrew Murray said: “Our fear is that driving down costs will mean a reduced service for the UK’s 100,000 deaf population and will see our members having their pay cut by the big outsourcing companies

“We are also concerned that there will not be enough protection when it comes to professional accreditation, which has been a 30-year fight to achieve.  It takes seven years to train a sign language interpreter and be on the National Registers of Communications Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People.

“Under-qualified interpreters could make mistakes that affect medical procedures or cause an innocent person to be sent to prison. This is a skilful job and should not be devalued in pursuit of cost-cutting.”

Unite pointed out that when outsourcing giant Capita took over the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) contract for interpreting it imposed a pay cut of over 50 per cent leading to a boycott of the MoJ – if something similar happened to the sign language profession it would cease to exist.

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