Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are unable to get professional help learning English because of government cuts, according to a study of census data and course registrations.
At the last census, 850,000 migrants living in England identified themselves as being unable to speak English well, or at all in many cases. But only 150,000 are registered in classes where English is taught to people for whom it is not their first language – meaning that as many as 700,000 are being “left voiceless”, the report warns.
The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have national strategies for making sure that migrants have the chance to learn English, but England has none.One survey found that four out of five classes were full and had waiting lists – some with more than 1,000 names on them.
Meanwhile, the think tank Demos has discovered through Freedom of Information requests that government backing for English for Speakers of Other Languages courses has been cut by more than 40 per cent in five years, from £212m in 2008/09 down to £128m in 2012/13.
Six years ago, English teaching accounted for nearly 8 per cent of the overall budget for adult education and training. By 2012-13, that proportion had fallen below 5 per cent.
Yet the need for the courses is likely to grow as the UK’s immigrants increase. It has been estimated that ethnic minorities will make up between 25 and 43 per cent of the population by 2056.
At the same time, local councils in England are under pressure from the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, to cut the number the documents they translate for people who cannot read English.
On Speaking Terms, the report published today by Demos, suggests the money saved by not translating documents should be ploughed into teaching courses. They point out that making it easier for migrants to learn the language could be a money-saver, because it increases their chances of finding work and contributing to the economy, and of staying healthy. But the system perversely makes it hard for migrants who have found work to continue studying, because as soon as they begin earning, they cease to be entitled to free classes.
Annual pay averages around £17,000 in sectors where migrants are most likely to be employed, putting even the subsidised classes, which cost £400-£1,000 a year, out of reach.
The report’s author, Ally Paget, said: “It is essential that we get as many newcomers as possible using English with confidence. This will unlock migrants’ potential and benefit the whole country. Unfortunately, our English for Speakers of Other Languages system is not up to the task. Current policy suffers from fragmentation, lack of clarity about the aims and intended outcomes of learning, and the tendency to take a short-term view.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We have toughened up English requirements for residency and citizenship but we do not subsidise learning for people seeking to meet these. It is right employers and individuals in work contribute towards the cost of their learning and so we do not fund workplace training.”