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), which is part of Unite.

The report titled, ‘A Dossier of Disgrace’ warns that UK government cost cutting and the introduction of national framework agreements have led to a shortage of skilled British Sign Language (BSL)/English interpreters 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 providing interpreting in hospital and GP appointments to legal and justice matters, as well as social care and child protection.

In 2015 the government brought in 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.

“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.” 

NUBSLI branch secretary Samantha Riddle said: “The introduction of framework agreements 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 is has also led to potentially life threatening situations with inexperienced and unqualified interpreters being relied upon in medical situations.”


For further information please contact the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065 or Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665869. 

Notes to editors        

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.