Language & Communication7th January 2014

Interpreters, Job Centres and Access for People who are Deaf

Department for Work and Pensions costs for interpreters hits £20 million in 4 years and yet deaf applicants struggle to get the communication support they deserve!

by Sarah Lawrence



Amongst news that the British taxpayer has spent on average of £5 million a year over the last four years on interpreters for foreigners claiming benefits, I found myself reflecting on the many stories I have been told in visits across the country about the lack of provision made for deaf people in the same situation.

​A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) commentator kindly confirmed that they have a legal obligation to provide interpreters for people who would otherwise have difficulty accessing their services and went on to confirm that this includes making arrangements for claimants who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Sadly, for many Deaf and Hard of Hearing applicants, the reality is quite different to these explanatory words.

I suppose the lack of provision for deaf people might be something to do with another helpful comment from the DWP, that they are careful to choose the most cost efficient means to provide interpretation services. In the case of deaf applicants, that has often meant no interpreter, lip speaker, Speech to Text Reporter (STTR) or other communication supporter. I have been told on countless occasions that when a deaf applicant has asked for an interpreter or other communication support, the DWP officer has responded that it's ok, they can understand what the applicant is saying! The level of deaf awareness is some areas is simply disgraceful.

Against this backdrop of denied requests, denied opportunity and denied equality for the UK's own deaf community, I was staggered to learn of the extent of interpreter provision for foreign applicants. Wrongly, I had assumed the DWP dealt with any non-English speaking applicants with the same ignorance and disregard they show deaf applicants, but apparently not.

The financial cost is not insignificant with most money spent on interpreters for people from Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and the fear is that the cost of provision to 'foreign claimants' will rise further.

The Interpreter costs are:

  • In 2010 the bill came to £6,751,551;
  • In 2011 £4,768,619;
  • In 2012 £4,118,816; and
  • From January to November 2013, the cost is £4,164,624

With interpreters so readily made available to foreign claimants, the significant and as yet unanswered question is, why are deaf applicants given such a raw deal?

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Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Language & Communication

7th January 2014