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An Open Letter to Enfield Council

As a deaf journalist (Stephen) and a deaf counsellor (Pauline) living in Enfield, we write urgently to ask you as council leader to reconsider your imminent funding cut to a lifeline for some of the borough's most vulnerable people.

At last week's Deaf Forum meeting at Community House, attended by several of your fellow councillors, the local deaf community was caught unawares by the decision to cease funding - in just three weeks' time - of the Deaf Project's information and advice work.

When questioned at the Deaf Forum, each and every one of your six councillors present conceded that they were unaware of this decision's potentially devastating impact on local deaf British Sign Language users. Many deaf people who use British Sign Language as their first or preferred language also lack sufficient fluency in English as a second language to engage non-specialist information and advice services.

In this context, your Head of Strategy Performance and Policy Doug Wilson's proposal to outsource the service to Community Barnet is a grave risk. Community Barnet is a generic service provider that does not have specialist staff with deaf awareness or British Sign Language skills. It does not provide an equivalent service to Enfield's Deaf Project and merely signposts enquirers to other information services (who in turn also lack these specialist skills).

Neither do the Council's website or telephone services address the issue. These are English language-based and inaccessible to those reliant on British Sign Language. Last night, many of Enfield's Deaf Project users testified to the positive impact of the information and advice service. From health to social care, financial to legal matters, the service plays a generally unacknowledged role in pre-empting individual client situations from deteriorating to crisis stage. In doing so, it effectively reduces workload on other already hard-pressed borough services.

We do empathise with the predicament that the council faces, due to central government funding cuts, and the dilemma that you face of prioritising services within a shrinking annual budget.

However, we fear that on this occasion councillors have been poorly advised. The proposed cuts will represent a false economy due to worsening of local deaf people's health and social outcomes and the resultant increased pressure on other borough services.

Indeed, Mr Wilson's proposal will potentially increase costs within the borough. If and when deaf people present to Community Barnet, or to other information and advice providers, they will only be able to access such services through the provision of sign language interpreters, working on fee-basis. And under the Equality Act, you will be legally bound to provide dramatically increased fees paid to enable sign language interpreter access - or face potential legal action for failure to do so.

In the final analysis, we fear Mr Wilson has overlooked that it is far more cost effective to maintain a specialist information and advice hub, even on a modest scale as currently provided by Enfield's Deaf Project, than to offload hidden costs onto other borough services.

We now have just three weeks before the Deaf Project's information and advice service closes. Over a decade of accumulated deaf-specific relationships and insight will be lost. May we urge you, Doug, to intervene and halt this funding cut before it is too late?

Stephen Iliffe and Pauline Latchem

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Neil Littman's Avatar
Neil Littman posted a reply #3730 22 Mar 2018 07:49
Dear Stephen and Pauline,

I wondered if I might make some comments on your article from a personal perspective. My mother who passed away last December age 97 was profoundly deaf most of her life and a member of the Jewish Deaf Association in North Finchley, in the borough of Barnet. She was also a lipreader rather than a signer which is how most of the other members communicate. This organisation is completely independent and self-funding and not linked to any council. They have been going for over 40 years and provide support and guidance for the Jewish deaf community. They were set up because even back then, there was a lack of funding and support for the deaf.

After my mother passed away, we had a life celebration at the JDA centre and I asked them a few questions about their history and current situation. They are unique in being the only Jewish deaf association in the UK and they told me there are very few equivalent organisations in the community as a whole both locally and nationwide.

They also told me something that might cause you concern regarding the local funding cuts. This was that Barnet Council are in financial difficulties and as a result want to refer all of their deaf community who need support to the JDA. Has this been mentioned to you?

JDA have agreed to help some of these people on a specific basis but they do not have the capacity or funding to take on all the local council needs and it would seem unlikely they would be involved with other councils.

This may have implications for your situation as it may have been an assumption by Enfield Council that another council would simply be able to take over their responsibilities.

Am happy to discuss this further with you if you want to contact me via email at

Kind regards,

Neil
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PGC Webmaster posted a reply #3745 29 Mar 2018 00:44
At last week's meeting of Enfield's Cabinet a deputation from Enfield Disability Action was permitted to present their concerns about the discontinuation of funding for the Deaf Project. The following is an excerpt from the minutes of the Cabinet meeting

In response to a request from members of the deaf community in attendance, the Leader agreed to listen to concerns in respect of the Enfield Disability Association (EDA) – Deaf Project.

3. Spokesperson for members of the deaf community Laurence Banks presented the deputation to Cabinet, including the following points:

He was involved in the Enfield Deaf Image Group (ENDIG) which had been campaigning to save the Deaf Project for about three years.

He thanked the Cabinet for permitting this opportunity to share the deaf community’s feelings and concerns.

The Deaf Project was very valuable to the deaf community and had helped so many people to be supported in calls, emails, etc which could not be done by themselves because of a lack of access. Face to face contact with real people was a necessity, and professional explanation in language which could be understood.

It was a problem that different services did not offer the same access.

When the community heard that the Council was cutting funding for the Deaf Project it was such a loss. People were anxious and did not know where they would find support.

Cabinet was asked to recognise the strength of feeling and that the deaf community were trying to save a service which was of high value to them and to the Council. Cabinet were asked to reconsider the decision, to recognise the need, and to provide funding and support for the Deaf Project to continue.

4. Councillor Alev Cazimoglu, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, was invited to speak in response and advised:

She had met the members of the deaf community in attendance many times previously and had worked closely with them and would continue to do so, and gave assurance that no-one was going to be forgotten about.

The present situation was confirmed. On 18/10/17 Cabinet had approved the Prevention and Early Intervention funding tender award. Outcomes Three and Six were deferred and referred back to Cabinet on 24/1/18. Given the delays in confirming the transition, funding had been given until 31/3/18. Procurement of voluntary service contracts were long overdue, but now there would be sustainable arrangements in place.

The voluntary and community sector would now be able to provide longer term services.

This had been challenging to organisations and there had been changes to what they were doing, and bringing in of new organisations and Council partnerships.

The anxieties of users was recognised and that was why things were being taken slowly and the new contracts were being worked through to ensure users’ needs were going to be met.

There were ongoing meetings between partners. The lead organisations had funds to allow start up. The new model aimed to continue provision of a wide range of support and services as had previously been provided, but there may be different providers in the current constrained financial environment. No services would be taken away. Work would continue to ensure a sustainable voluntary sector community service.

5. Further information in response was provided by Bindi Nagra, Director of Adult Social Care, including:

The final decision on award of contracts to voluntary sector organisations was made in January.

Transitional funding was made available to provide services up to the end of March.

New organisations were working hard to make sure that new services were put in place as quickly as possible.

The new arrangements would respond to people with sensory impairments including deaf people, and officers were having talks about needs being met going forward.

He offered his personal assurance that the issues for the deaf community had not been forgotten and work was going on to bring in new arrangements as quickly as possible.

He was aware of the forthcoming closure of the Deaf Project office, and acknowledged users’ anxiety during the transition, but it had to be understood that existing services were stopping and new services that responded to the needs of all the community within the budget envelope of the Council were going to be provided, and that did mean change.

6. Councillor Taylor stressed the need for a seamless transition, and ensuring that the transition was monitored. Bindi Nagra confirmed that there were regular meetings with the new providers, and that conversations continued with Enfield Disability Association. Once the final agreements were signed and it was proper to give the information, the details of the new arrangements would be provided. Councillor Cazimoglu and Councillor Brett were also monitoring closely to ensure that the transition happened as seamlessly as possible.

7. Councillor Alessandro Georgiou on behalf of the deaf community thanked Councillor Taylor for permitting the deputation and for his and Councillor Cazimoglu’s response this evening.

8. Councillor Taylor thanked the deputees and recognised the passion and concern among the deaf community. It was important to get services right for people, and good to know that Councillors Cazimoglu and Brett would be keeping a close eye on the issue and would want to maintain dialogue about the situation. He thanked the members of the deaf community for attending and for powerfully raising their cause.