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The Dance of the Deaf

Reported in yesterday’s Daily Mail:

Company bosses who claimed £130,000 in benefits for sign language interpreters despite not being deaf walk free from court

Two company directors who pocketed tens of thousands of pounds in taxpayers’ money from bogus claims for sign language interpreters have swerved prison.
Tracy Holliday, 39, and Ian Johnston, 43, sent their children to private school off the back of the £134,000 they made from bogus claims for interpreters and support staff they did not use.
Despite their crimes being branded ‘sickening’ by the Minister for Disabled People, the pair have walked free from court on suspended sentences.

The Northern Echo has the same story, although Ms Holliday’s name is given as “Tracey”, as it is in several other sources.

This being the Daily Mail, everybody is outraged about everything. The Mail commenters are outraged that the couple committed the fraud, that they escaped jail, and that they get to keep the money. “People like this are crippling our welfare system by stealing from us daily – they never suffer any kind of real punishment and so it will continue,” runs a typical comment.

The Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper, shares the commenters’ outrage and manages to get in a plug for the Access to Work scheme the defendants were abusing, “This is a sickening example of two people milking a system designed especially to support disabled people to get or keep a job. ‘Access to Work helps over 35,000 disabled people to do their job. More and more disabled people are getting into work thanks to this fund and our Disability Confident campaign – as employers recognise the tremendous skills they bring to business.”

Even Ms Holliday and Mr Johnston themselves manage a little hopeful outrage, over the way that that they were, they say, obliged by family circumstances to plead guilty with all its potentially unpleasant consequences (not that the actual consequences for them were much more than bad publicity), when really they just didn’t get how the system worked and hadn’t noticed the illegitimate origin of all that cash piling up in their bank accounts.

No one seems outraged or even surprised by the idea that even if Ms Holliday and Ian Johnston’s claims had been genuine, their company would be getting services worth approximately forty-five thousand pounds a year provided by the government to make it worth their while to employ deaf people who could not do their jobs without an interpreter. You don’t get 45 grand per annum to make it worth your while to employ monolingual Tagalog speakers, although by some counts the number of people in the UK whose first language is British Sign Language and whose first language is Tagalog is similar. You might argue that, unlike those who have a foreign mother tongue, deaf people have a disability making them deserving of state aid to compensate for their misfortune – but if you did you would be contradicting Deaf (note the capital D) activists who maintain that deafness is not an impairment but a cultural choice, not to mention government guidelines on how to refer to the Deaf community.

Nobody seems to give any credence to Holliday and Johnston’s claim that they just did not realise that what they were doing was wrong. Could they really be capable enough to run a business and yet still be under the impression that the government would every year squirt tens of thousands of pounds in their direction without checking how it was spent, just because some of their employees were deaf?

Be fair, why should they not have received that impression since that is indeed the way the system is meant to work?

Here is an almost spookily similar case from 2008. Notice how the culprits in that case sought out employees disabled enough to qualify for the Access to Work benefits. Applicants who could not apply for AtW support were ignored. Notice also how the real business of the “businesses” in both cases was subsidy farming. There are thousands of deaf employees and employers doing real work, providing things that people both deaf and hearing really want enough to pay for – including, of course, translation between signing and English. There are no doubt thousands more who would like to do likewise, but the mushrooming of “Community Interest Companies”, “Social Enterprises” and similar much subsidised and little scrutinised sources of employment has normalised a sort of performance dance choreographed to look like people working. Deaf employees, sign language interpreters, support workers, and those whose jobs depend on administering and policing Access to Work and similar schemes all join the dance, gracefully exchanging partners until La Ronde is complete.

11 comments to The Dance of the Deaf

  • Very retired

    On the Frabjus day, when the Jabberwocky of the progressive state has been destroyed, I shall futterwhacken most vigorously. (But I promise not to sing).

    Until then, have a Happy Thanksgiving day, wherever you are.

  • Phil B

    You state :

    “This being the Daily Mail, everybody is outraged about everything.”

    Are you implying somehow that the DM is unjustified in its outrage?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    A continual state of outrage means that one cannot easily judge between cases.

    I really do feel a bit of sympathy for Holliday and Johnston, in the same way that I feel a bit of sympathy for those MP’s who “flipped” their houses when making expense claims. That is, I do not believe that they had no idea they were misusing the system, but I do believe that they honestly thought, not without reason, that they were only doing what everyone did.

  • Mr Ed

    I do believe that they honestly thought, not without reason, that they were only doing what everyone did.

    The path to Hell…

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    … was paved on a government contract.

  • Mr Ed


    I have noticed that there is a remarkably militant streak in the ‘Deaf Community’, I understand that they have the term ‘Hearies’ for people who can hear, and some have argued against cochlea implants as cures for deafness as an attack on their community. I suppose that if you aren’t obliged to lead an economic life, be that in the public sector or on some form of welfare, then you have the luxury of thinking all sorts of things and there is no economic reality test to check your ideas against.

  • Paul Marks

    The more complex the Welfare State grows – so the opportunities for fraud (including “legal” fraud) grow, especially for wealthy people and clever people.

    One scam is all the “training” companies (the present government loves “training” – but then all governments do).

    There is a scheme to pay companies for every person they “help back into work”.

    So the companies pick out people who are going to get a job anyway, sign up for “training” and other “help” (all fictional) and then pocket the money.

    The present welfare reforms are not helping – they are just making everything even more complex (under the claim of making it simpler).

    The standard rule applies – if someone is clever and a good manipulator they can get a fortune out of the system.

    If someone is really in need (and depressed and confused as such people usually are) they will find it increasingly difficult to get any money out of the system at all.

    End result?

    More people in desperate situations – even as the budget of the department goes UP.

    Oh yes the department budget is going up – the TOTAL budget. So much for all the zillions of “savings”.

  • bloke in spain

    Sorry to intrude, but if you had an anti-QOTD topic classification you wouldn’t want to miss this one:

    “We brag about our democracy, but women are still less represented in our legislature than in Kyrgyzstan, China, Rwanda and Sudan ”


    Now there’s a list of democracies to regard with awe & envy.


  • “… not that the actual consequences for them were much more than bad publicity …” – I don’t quite get it. Normally, “suspended” sentences mean not to have to go to prison (immediately – only after another infraction), but generally you have to a) pay a fine instead/on top of the prison sentence not served and b) you have to pay back the unlawful gains including interest. Are you saying they are to a) not even pay a fine and b) keep the spoils?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    I don’t entirely get it either, CrisisMaven, but that’s the impression I got from reading the newspaper accounts. The commenters on the Daily Mail definitely thought that the Holliday and Johnston were getting to “keep” the spoils in the sense that the pair had already spent the money on private school fees, and on putting it into a business that was in the process of going bust, and so could not pay it back.

    Interestingly the sentence “The DWP says it is committed to having the money returned” now appears at the end of the DM story. I couldn’t swear to it, but I think that sentence wasn’t there when I first read the story, and so was presumably put in to calm the outrage of the commenters, possibly at the request of the DWP. It sounds more a pious aspiration than a firm prediction. It doesn’t sound likely that Johnston and Holliday are going to be able to come up with £134k given that they are now in disgrace.

    I saw no mention of a fine.