Alex Attwood MLA
Minister for Social Development
Department of Social Development
1 Cromac Place
Gasworks Business Park
18 August 2010
Re: letter to the sector ref: SUB/811/2010
In response to your letter received via NICVA, RNID would like to offer some
thoughts, which are outlines in the following pages. We apologise in advance for the
length, but we felt it was important to highlight specific examples which you may find
By way of introduction, we are the leading UK charity working on hearing loss and
hearing health, providing a range of quality services across Northern Ireland to the
almost 260,000 people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
These services include: comprehensive information resources on deafness and
hearing loss; the largest supply of specialist hearing-related products in Europe;
volunteering projects; specialist employment and skills services, Access, Training
and Consultancy services, the only residential home for profoundly deaf people with
additional needs in Ireland, Communication Services which provide sign language
interpreters and other communication professionals, innovation in the development of
training in communication support and conducting local research.
We are also members of the Disability Social Care Forum and we support the
comments made in their response to you.
If you require any further information or would like to discuss any of the points we
have raised, please don‟t hesitate to contact me on 028 9023 9619 or email:
Director, RNID NI
Question 1: What should be the priority areas within DSD to best protect
those in need, stress or disadvantage? What works best and what
should be reviewed?
A work of the Voluntary and Community Unit within DSD should be protected
to ensure that your partners in this sector are sufficiently resourced and
supported to continue to deliver much needed public services to the most
vulnerable in our society. In particular we recommend that the Department:
revisits the general principles and shared values outlined in Compact:
Between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector in NI
implements the strategic actions outlined in Government‟s Final Report on
the Implementation of Positive Steps: The Government‟s Response to
Investing Together: Report of the Task Force on Resourcing the Voluntary
and Community Sector
continues to manage Government grants and provide funding programmes
for the Community and Voluntary sector, ensures that the application
process is clear and accessible and that the grants database is up to date
continues to work in partnership with the Voluntary and Community sector
to develop policy and strategy
continues to promote Volunteering and Active Citizenship and ensure that
the recommendations outlined in the Volunteering strategy are
creates access to volunteering for disabled people by enabling them to
draw Access to Work benefit for volunteering activities
work in partnership with volunteer centres and organisations to ensure
adequate training/skills is offered to organisations to enhance their
continues to support Community Development
The Department also needs to give due consideration to charity policy and
legislation in Northern Ireland, and in particular the establishment of the
Charity Commission. We would hope that the creation of the Commission will
not create unnecessary red tape for charities but rather acts as a „one stop
shop‟ for advice and guidance. For example, the Charity Commission could
take responsibility for fundraising permits, which is currently the responsibility
of the PSNI. This would creates less work for the voluntary sector if the
process and support was available in one place, therefore reducing
administration time which could be better spent on delivering services.
The third area for consideration is around access to benefits for deaf and hard
of hearing people, particularly in light of high unemployment and
underemployment that they unfairly experience.
Research has shown that only 9.7% of severely/profoundly deaf people in
Great Britain receive Disability Living Allowance, and this may be explained to
some degree by the fact that deaf people are more likely to be unaware of
their entitlements, due to a lack of accessible independent advice and
Deaf people face barriers in accessing benefits, such as the complexity of
administrative systems which are not geared towards deafness or hard of
hearing issues, the lack of access to appropriate communication to enable
deaf people to receive information and advice, and a lack of targeted
promotion of entitlements to deaf people. Access to independent advice which
is tailored to meet the needs of deaf people has proven to increase benefit
uptake, and deliver other positive outcomes for the individuals.
An example of good practice is the 3 year project RNID established in 2002 -
“Equality of Access to Advice and Information for Deaf and Hard of Hearing
People”. The project aimed to help people who are deaf or hard of hearing
access the advice and information they need in a way which addressed the
barriers they face. The project employed two Specialist Advice Workers who
were based in the Derry/Londonderry and Dungannon CAB offices. The
Workers were supported by a fully qualified sign language interpreter and had
expertise and indepth knowledge of issues relating specifically to deaf and
hard of hearing people.
Over a 42 month period the Specialist Advice Workers dealt with 2,554
enquiries from 1,372 clients, 60-75% of which related to benefits issues, the
remainder relating to discrimination (employment, access to services),
money/debt, housing, health and consumer issues.
A conservative figure estimated the Advisors assisted in the recovery of
£458,564 of unpaid/unclaimed benefit entitlement for service users. This
represents over £10,000 for every operational month of the project, yet does
not include the long-term financial impact; empowerment of the individual;
awareness raised in health, social, private and public sector provision;
satisfaction and recognition of service users; operational relationships
between providers and Health and Social Care Trusts, Deaf Clubs, the
Equality Commission; improved communication skills in CAB offices and
increased opportunities to reach and support this client group.
While that project unfortunately came to an end, an accessible CAB advice
service still operates a two hour clinic on a weekly basis from RNID
headquarters in Belfast and receives an average of 5-10 deaf clients per
RNID recommends that DSD action its strategic commitments to the voluntary
and community sector as outlined in the Compact, Positive Steps, Investing
Together, and Resourcing the Sector reports.
RNID recommends that DSD actively promote, support and enable
RNID recommends that DSD creates a Charity Commission which will enable
not burden the sector.
RNID recommends to DSD that access to specialist provision of independent
advice services for deaf people, within the mainstream service, should be
Question 2: What could or should be done within the voluntary and
community sector to work better to address overheads and deliver
greater benefits to the community?
Partnership working is a basic tenet of much that goes on across the
voluntary and community sector which has proven to reap benefits for the
partner organisations in terms of time and money saved, broadening the
reach of services, increasing the knowledge bank within the organisations,
sharing best practice, and ultimately delivering greater benefits to the
RNID has many years of experience of working in partnership with other
voluntary organisations North and South of the border, including RNIB,
DeafHear.ie, the British Deaf Association and CAB; Government
Departments, including DEL, DCAL, DHSSPS, DSD; and others such as
EGSA and the Electoral Commission, with support from a range of funders
including the Big Lottery, Health and Social Care Trusts, SEUPB etc.
One example is the Sign Language Partnership Group set up after formal
recognition of British & Irish Sign Languages in NI in 2004. The group has
representatives from deaf related organisations/deaf community and the 11
Government Departments. DCAL is the lead Government Agency and
representatives from each Department get the opportunity to meet and
engage directly with representatives of the Deaf community. It has resulted in
greater understanding of needs and with it an acceptance of sharing
responsibilities across Departments in funding communication support,
resources to promote sign language and developing greater access for deaf
people. This model of engagement should be encouraged as this approach
widens partnership between Government Departments, the voluntary sector
and users with more effective use of resources.
Another good example of a way to reduce overheads and deliver greater
benefits to the community through partnership is the new Sensory
Engagement Programme run by RNID, Deafhear, the Royal National Institute
of Blind People and National Council for the Blind in Ireland. The project aims
to ensure that clients with sensory impairments can: access key services in
key sector organisations; use technology to access key services; actively take
part in economic and social transactions with businesses and service
Efficiencies in overhead costs have been achieved by sharing existing office
premises and back office functions, combining the delivery of services to
client groups which share some common issues and reducing duplication of
services by working cross-border. It is anticipated that through this project a
cross-border sensory project model of good practice will be realised and
shared across Europe.
The other unique ability the voluntary sector has is the room to grow
innovation in meeting the needs of our client group and to be creative within
restricted budgets. This has led to a huge growth in the use of unpaid
volunteers to deliver vital services. While volunteers are not „free‟ and require
an investment in terms of organisational commitment and management time
to support them, their costs are considerably lower than paid staff costs, and
their enthusiasm and empathy ensures a very high quality of service. We
could not provide the volume of services we currently offer across such a
large geographic spread without the support of volunteers.
RNID‟s volunteer programme has recruited 158 volunteers over the last 5
years, most of whom have a hearing loss themselves. These committed
volunteers are trained and supported to deliver information talks to a wide
range of interested bodies, mount exhibitions, provide information to the
public about hearing loss and hearing health, and carry out RNID‟s Hearing
Those volunteers who use a hearing aid also deliver our Hearing Aid Project
to run regular drop-in clinics in large towns across the country, and visit
people who have recently been given a hearing aid in their own home. This
project grew in response to an identified need among new hearing aid users
for support and information on getting the best use of their hearing aid, and a
lack of knowledge of how to clean and maintain their hearing aid. Work is
underway to identify the positive impact this service has had on the quality of
life of the individuals, the increased usage of hearing aids, the potential
reduction in repeat audiology or GP appointments and the fiscal benefits to
everyone of such early intervention.
RNID has estimated that the hours of work carried out by our volunteers is
equivalent to a full time paid member of staff.
RNID recommends that DSD look to the voluntary and community sector for
best practice in creating efficient and quality services, increases partnership
opportunities, and recognises and supports the valuable contribution that
volunteers make to improving quality for life of other people.
Question 3: Do you have any wider comments about how the Executive
should address the budgetary situation?
All aspects of Government spending and outputs for that spend must be
scrutinised in light of a very difficult economic climate. This includes the size
of the workforce, which significantly outweighs counterparts in the other
devolved countries and is enjoying the luxury of inflationary pay increases
unlike many employees in the voluntary and private sector.
Urgent action is needed on the delivery of the Review of Public
Administration, and in particular the downsizing of unnecessary local
Government structures – a population of 1.7million people does not require an
administrative burden of 26 local Councils. Urgent action on the proposed
changes to the education sector also needs to be taken.
Lastly, the Executive should look to its stakeholders in the voluntary and
community sector, which are delivering a vast range of public services, and
seek to strengthen the sector through realistic Service Level Agreements, the
sharing of expertise in the form of free consultative support, secondments
between sectors to encourage the sharing of best practice, and the
recognition of the added value the sector brings to the work of Government
through innovate research, information, technological developments, the
ability to lever funding and support from other sources and its close
connections to local communities.
Evidence of success in Government working with partners in the voluntary
sector to deliver key public services is available in RNID‟s publication „Adding
Value to Public Services‟ which has been forwarded to you separately. We
provided the first example of a charity delivering a major Government
programme of modernisation within the NHS through the Modernising Hearing
Aid Services (MHAS) programme in England. Using RNID‟s commercial
experience to lead the procurement process for digital hearing aids on behalf
of the Department of Health, an agreement was reached that ensured a
dramatic drop in the price of digital hearing aids. This made a potential cost
reduction of approximately £40-50 million per annum to the Health Service
compared to the price that would have been paid under the original contract.
This is only one aspect of the positive outcomes achieved through the MHAS
partnership for audiology services and patients in England.
The second major Government programme which involved RNID was the
Early Support Programme, when our Head of Education Policy was seconded
to the Department for Education and Skills to coordinate discussions with
stakeholders, frame a strategy and produce joint guidance on delivering early
intervention and support to deaf children and their families. The resulting
strategy and guidance „Together from the Start‟ initiated the delivery of the
Early Support Programme which was managed in partnership with RNID and
RNID recommends that the NI Executive takes immediate action to make
public services and local Government more efficient, and improve its links with
the voluntary and community sector to realise savings in the longer term.