Government bows to pressure from Deaf lobby over Access to Work


newslatestThe minister for disabled people appears to have bowed to pressure from Deaf campaigners over new rules that made it harder for them to secure the support they needed to communicate in the workplace.

The new government guidance, introduced last year, meant that any deaf person who needed more than 30 hours a week of communication support through the Access to Work (AtW) scheme had to employ their own full-time communication support worker on a salary.

But Mike Penning, the Conservative minister for disabled people, has now apparently suspended the new rules, and ordered a three-month review of AtW support for Deaf and hard of hearing people.

David Buxton, chief executive of the British Deaf Association (BDA), welcomed the decision to suspend the new rules.

He had joined representatives from other deaf organisations in a meeting with Penning last week, as part of a UK Council of Deafness delegation led by the Liberal Democrat MPs Sir Malcolm Bruce and Stephen Lloyd.

Buxton said: “All those who have been campaigning and lobbying their MPs in the past few months deserve great credit.

“The government’s decision to hold a review is very welcome. We know this is only the beginning but the minister is starting to recognise the fundamental issues. Let us hope we can avoid a situation where Deaf people end up losing their jobs.”

Despite Buxton’s comments, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to confirm the minister’s decision and would only say that “an operational change has been made to the 30 hour rule within Access to Work”.

A DWP spokeswoman declined to comment further, or to confirm the launch of the inquiry.

Charities have warned that there are only about 1,000 trained British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters and only 25 speech-to-text reporters, compared with 3.7 million deaf workers.

Many deaf people need different types of support at different times, for example BSL-interpreters and note-takers, while some employers have reportedly been refusing to recruit deaf staff because they would need to employ two people rather than just one.

Deaf people were already four times more likely to be unemployed than hearing people, even before the new rules.

More than 5,000 people have signed a petition calling on DWP to reverse the changes, while a parliamentary early day motion has attracted the signatures of 55 MPs.

BDA was due to meet with leaders from other deaf organisations this week to discuss how to present a united voice to the government and parliament during the AtW review.

Buxton said it was also vital for Deaf people to continue to campaign for BSL to be given legal status, which he said would protect its future.

He said Penning had “suggested the possibility” of setting up an inquiry into granting legal status to BSL.

22 May 2014