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What we want to see from the next government: work with the Deaf Community to transform their life chances

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Illustration of a woman in a white blouse and blue pants conversing with a man in a suit with a badge during an election, holding a paper.

Our Loud and Clear manifesto sets out what we want to see from an incoming government. In this series we explain the issues we are campaigning on. In this blog, RNID’s Inclusion Policy Advisor, Natasha Robinson, sets out RNID’s call to the new Government: to work with the Deaf community in a process of genuine co-production, so that British Sign Language (BSL) users get to directly to improve their life chances and ensure the policies and services impacting them meet their needs.  

Watch our Loud and Clear charity manifesto summary in BSL

Promises made by the Government to the Deaf community 

The Deaf community must be given a voice in directing policy that impacts their lives.

During the British Sign Language Act campaign in 2022, the Government made promises to the Deaf community, including the establishment of a non-statutory advisory board and to consider how the Government can further facilitate and promote BSL usage.  

We’re demanding the next Government prioritises delivering these promises and works with the Deaf community to achieve them. 

RNID believe there are four key activities that the Government need to do, to deliver on these promises.

Policy ask one: Ensure that official Government data collection surveys acknowledge the greater barriers BSL users face to accessing services and participating in society, due to the language barrier, and measure them as a separate group to those with hearing loss  

Good evidence and measurement through surveys and data collection are essential for ensuring that policies consider the needs of BSL users.  

We need the next Government to commit to addressing these gaps in evidence so they can identify issues impacting the Deaf community and measure the effectiveness of the implementation of policy solutions. 

How deaf BSL users are currently measured in Governmental data collection practices

In the quarterly Labour Force Survey, BSL users and people with hearing loss are both  grouped  in the category ‘difficulty hearing’. In 2023, the Labour Force Survey found that 74.7% of people who had difficulty hearing were employed. In comparison, the 2021 census found that only 37% of people who use BSL as their main language are employed. This is a big difference. 

While the Labour Force Survey is taken four times a year, the census only takes place every 10 years. This means that there is no regular, accurate measurement of how many BSL users are unemployed and in need of further employment support.

Policy ask two: Government communications should be accessible for BSL users;  RNID’s Accessible Communications Checklist, outlining  how departments can  meet the needs of people who have hearing loss and are deaf, should be embedded as best practice

The 2022 BSL report showed that 11 Government departments had provided no BSL communications during press conferences, on social media or on webpages. RNID were particularly disappointed to see that during a cost-of-living crisis the Treasury did not promote what support was available to people in BSL.  

During the Covid-19 pandemic, RNID and charities representing people with sensory loss or neurological conditions presented a list of actions to the Women and Equalities Select Committee. This list laid out the actions Government must take to make sure that its information is accessible. These included:  

  • Alternative formats such as BSL video translations. 
  • Contact options for Government services that include RelayUK and Video Relay Services. 
  • Pre-created Subtitles and BSL interpretation on all pre-recorded speeches and Government adverts. 

The next Government must prioritise these actions so that BSL users are not excluded from getting important information about support and services at the same time as everyone else.  

Policy ask three: As the Head of the Government, the Prime Minister must ensure No.10 press conferences have a BSL interpreter so that deaf BSL users have access to moments of national importance

The lack of BSL interpretation during the Number 10 Covid-19 briefings was harshly criticised by the Deaf community, who were excluded from essential information about public health and safety, like changes to social distancing rules.  

In February 2024, the Government pledged to have in-person BSL interpretation for all major Number 10 press conferences and briefings from spring 2024. However, no interpreter was at the 4 July general election announcement.  Reaching BSL users was evidently not a priority for the Prime Minster.  

We have written to Kier Starmer and Rishi Sunak, inviting them to use the registered interpreter we have booked for their first speech to the British public as our next Prime Minister. We hope that the next Government will ensure that BSL interpretation is included in all future speeches.  

Policy ask four: Evolve the BSL Advisory Board to a model of genuine co-production on policies that impact the lives of the Deaf community 

In 2023, the Government created the BSL Advisory Board, made up of representatives from the Deaf community, to help implement the BSL Act.  

We strongly believe that the Government should recognise the importance of this board and allow it to co-draft guidance, ensuring that the Government meets the needs of the Deaf community.  

We believe these actions will give BSL users more opportunities to have their needs recognised by Government, and to help create policies which empower and improve their lives.

We’ll be publishing articles up until the 4 July general election, outlining our demands of our ‘Loud and Clear’ charity manifesto.

An illustration of a man and woman standing at a podium, delivering a speech to an audience with the woman translating into BSL.

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