Funding cuts undermine Cameron’s integration message

David Cameron called for immigrants to have more “understanding of British values” as part of his strategy to tackle extremism - but at the same time is cutting funding for ESOL that enables those very people to integrate into society.

James Lee is a Policy Advisor at the Refugee Council

As Left Foot Forward points out, David Cameron has contradicted himself: this month he called for immigrants to have more “understanding of British values” as part of his strategy to tackle extremism, but at the same time is cutting funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) that enables those very people to integrate into society.

New research by the Association of Colleges draws welcome attention to the problems this will cause, including the devastating effect this will have on refugees and asylum seekers attempting to play their part in UK life.

Take our client Sara, for example. She came here as an asylum seeker from Turkey in 2007 and spoke limited English. She wanted to be able to contribute to UK life and study here, and enrolled in an ESOL course.

As an asylum seeker she was not allowed to work, and was therefore eligible for funding. Without this help Sara could not have begun to learn English, as she had no means to pay for the course herself.

She is still waiting for a decision on her asylum case, but in the meantime, as a result of learning English, has been able to volunteer in her local charity shop three days a week, and in a local nursery for two days. Under new guidelines, people like Sara – a fine example not only of someone trying to integrate into society, but also to help her local community – will no longer be eligible for full ESOL funding. Asylum seekers will have to pay 50% of their course fees, and will have to pay registration fees, exam fees and childcare expenses themselves. With what, we wonder.

Refugees who have been given status will also miss out. These include parents, carers and older refugees for whom ESOL will be a lifeline, as well as refugees in employment. But the government cannot assume that a refugee who is in work will be able to afford ESOL classes.

The majority of refugees are on low incomes so are unlikely to be able to afford fees and will therefore be confined to low skilled and low paid jobs where English is not a necessity, even if they are highly skilled doctors or lawyers for example.

Without access to English classes, the feelings of isolation many asylum seekers and refugees face will be exacerbated. As people are forced to rely more on their own families and communities to interpret for them, therefore restricting their access to mainstream services, it will encourage the segregation of communities the prime minister is so worried about.

We are campaigning for the government to reconsider these proposals, and urge others to join us. We know that cuts are being made across the board, but this is no reason to let the most vulnerable people in our society to suffer further. Moreover, if David Cameron is serious about encouraging integration and for new arrivals to the country to ‘understand British values’, he must now prove that he is committed to helping them do so.

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