The Good Practice Exchange Team is running a shared learning seminar focusing on access to services for people who do not speak English or Welsh. So why are we holding this event? Rachel Harries, Wales Audit Office, shares our thinking on this topic…
If someone can’t speak English or Welsh and needs a translator to access your services, would you know what to do?
The 2011 census tells us that more than 80 different languages are spoken in Wales. At that time there were about 20,000 people living in Wales whose main language wasn’t English or Welsh, a proportion of whom said that they couldn’t speak one or other language fluently. People whose main language is not English or Welsh are most likely to live in Cardiff, Swansea, Newport or Wrexham council areas, partly because these are UK Borders Agency dispersal areas for refugees and asylum seekers. But every area of Wales is home to some people who aren’t able to communicate easily in English or Welsh; for example, people who use British Sign Language as their main language and all councils have committed to accepting refugees under the Government’s resettlement programme.
The number of individuals and families affected is relatively small, but they are more likely than the wider population to need to access public services, either because of existing health conditions that may be linked to their sensory loss, or because of traumatic experiences they have undergone before arriving in Wales. Even worse, difficulties in making themselves understood can mean that people aren’t able to access the services they need (and are entitled to) and they may reach crisis point before they come to the attention of the people who can help them.
From our initial research into this subject we know that this is a situation that some public services may face relatively infrequently, so there’s a good chance that some organisations simply haven’t prepared to respond appropriately. But we also know that there is a lot of good work that is already happening in specific areas and organisations. Our seminar on ‘Making services more accessible for people who do not speak English or Welsh’ is a chance to share good work and allow people working in public services to think about realistic, practical steps their organisations can take to put suitable arrangements in place.
The seminar workshops will cover three topics – digital inclusion, housing and health. We knew we wouldn’t be able to cover all the issues that this diverse group of people might face so we had to think about what would be relevant to the greatest number. Housing was an obvious place to start as a roof over your head is such a fundamental need; without this foundation, other services won’t be able to make much of an impact.
Health was another important area as people who can’t speak English or Welsh find it difficult to access healthcare – even though they may be more likely than others to need it. As a result, their health can deteriorate before they get treatment, which is worse for them and potentially much more expensive for the NHS.
Finally, we chose digital inclusion as there are many opportunities for organisations to use new technology to communicate with people who don’t speak – or read – English or Welsh proficiently. The widespread use of smartphones and developments in software designed to increase accessibility means that there are now simple and cost effective solutions available that simply wouldn’t have existed a few years ago.
Because the group of people we’re talking about is so diverse, the seminar itself should be useful to a broad range of people, but in particular we thought it would be useful to public sector and third sector staff who are
- equalities portfolio holders
- equalities officers
- policy leads
- website accessibility managers
- staff responsible for developing or delivering services for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to the UK
- staff responsible for developing or delivering services for people with sensory loss
If this sounds like you, you can sign up for the seminar for free and find out about some practical and cost effective steps you can take to make sure that the people who need them aren’t shut out of the services you provide.