Tens of thousands of people will lose the English lessons they depend on to participate in society
The cuts that George Osborne is due to announce in tomorrow’s Comprehensive Spending Review will affect some big names – HM Treasury, the Department for Transport, the Cabinet Office.
Other areas that will be hit by the chancellor’s budget plans will receive fewer headlines, but are no less significant for the people who rely on the services they support.
One such area is adult education, which is vital in allowing people from diverse backgrounds to fulfill their potential. Figures released two weeks ago revealed that a third of adult education could be under threat from spending cuts, and that funding for adult skills has already fallen 35 per cent since 2009.
The cuts are expected to hit ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) courses particularly hard. At a time when the integration and participation of refugees and migrants is at the forefront of public consciousness, tens of thousands of people will lose their English language courses.
On 21 July 2015, the government announced the withdrawal of mandated ESOL funding as part of an in-year savings package. As the University and College Union pointed out, this was announced just a day after David Cameron had lamented areas of the country ‘where language remains a real barrier, where too many women from minority communities remain trapped outside the workforce, and where educational attainment is low.’
Asylum seekers are currently only eligible for ESOL once they have been in the UK for six months without a decision on their application. They are, however, only eligible for co-funded ESOL and therefore they have to pay 50 per cent of the cost of the course.
This rule is clearly a major barrier to the successful integration of, for example, the 20,000 Syrian refugees David Cameron has committed to taking. How are new migrants, many of them highly skilled, expected to find work if they cannot speak English? It is completely counterproductive, to the economy and to community cohesion, to deny people this most important tool for independence.
Tomorrow, the campaign group Action for ESOL will bring together thousands of students from across the country in a coordinated Twitter campaign to tell ministers why they need ESOL. At 4pm the students’ messages will be delivered to City Hall.
One student who has spoken out is Amina, who came to the UK to flee war in Somalia. She attended her last class at Tower Hamlets College earlier this month as the course is now closed due to cuts. Amina had been learning to read and write for the first time.
Mandy Brown, a teacher at Lambeth College, said:
“After years of cut after cut, the very existence of ESOL is threatened. Migrants depend on these classes to participate fully in society. So many ESOL students have progressed to further training, higher education and the job market.
“Whilst politicians over the past 10 years have loudly insisted that migrants learn English to integrate, those same politicians have decimated the provision. ESOL helps to reduce poverty, address skills shortages and improve community cohesion.”
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward