Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) and other leading deaf organisations are urgently calling on the government to reassess cost-cutting policy changes to their Access to Work scheme, which are creating barriers to employing deaf people and preventing them from playing a full role in the workplace in the future.
With deaf people already four times more likely to be unemployed, the change in policy will not only restrict their access to communication support but will also increase costs for employers that could force people with hearing loss out of work. Early reports suggest these new measures could cost employers an extra £10,000 per deaf member of staff.
Currently the government-funded initiative provides deaf employees with up to 30 hours of communication support per week, however the scheme is moving deaf people to employ full-time salaried communication support, rather than freelance support, restricting the range of support deaf people need and the flexibility that they rely upon.
Chief Executive of Action on Hearing Loss, Paul Breckell, said: ‘It’s totally unrealistic for the 3.7 million deaf workers in the UK to recruit a full-time communication support worker. The type of support someone needs might vary from day today and there are real problems in terms of the number of qualified professionals available – from little more than 1,000 British Sign Language interpreters to just 25 speech-to-text reporters.
‘These unworkable changes will damage the flexibility that deaf people require at work and transfer additional, unsustainable costs to employers. The government are creating a perfect storm by unnecessarily complicating a policy that deaf and disabled people across the UK rely on.’
David Buxton, Chief Executive of the British Deaf Association, said: ‘We are very concerned that deaf and hard of hearing Access to Work users were not properly consulted about the new 30 hours a week rule. We know some users who are following this new policy have said it creates more barriers on top of those that they already face such. That’s why we have come together to request an urgent meeting to resolve this matter and ensure that no one who is deaf or hard of hearing users struggles in their own jobs and are as equal as their own hearing peers.’
In response to concerns from the deaf community, supporters and partners, Action on Hearing Loss, the British Deaf Association and Action Deafness and four other deaf organisations have written to the Head of the Access to Work Programme and Minister for Disabled People demanding immediate action.