Refugee Week: The government is engaged in shameful hypocrisy over ‘integration’

Funding for English courses has been halved in a decade...while ministers lecture migrants and refugees about 'integration'.

In Manchester we pride ourselves on providing a place of sanctuary for those that need it. The people I have met in my constituency who are refugees talk about how they want to live in dignity, contribute to their communities and provide for themselves and their families.

Without the opportunity to learn to speak English, rebuilding your life is almost impossible. Lacking language skills means refugees can’t integrate properly or find work. But refugees across England are being prevented from rebuilding their lives fully because their access to English for Speakers of Other Languages teaching (ESOL) is simply not enough.

Despite repeated emphasis from the government on the importance of English teaching and integration, they continue to fail to take sufficient action or commit the spending required to create a fair and humane migration system, that supports people to learn English.

The government’s own Integrated Communities Strategy has recognised the need to boost people’s English language skills to enable them to go far, and the 2018 Immigration White Paper noted that ‘English language proficiency is still a barrier to integration into society for many people’.

In spite of these warm words, funding for providers of ESOL classes across England has shrunk shockingly over the past decade, from £212.3m in 2008 to £105m in 2018 – this is a real term cut of almost 60%. Unsurprisingly, there has been a decline in adult participation in ESOL classes of almost 40% over this time. This is disgraceful and must change.

The most vulnerable groups in our society are being the worst impacted by these cuts. Those with caring responsibilities are being badly impacted – women are being disproportionally and unfairly disadvantaged.

New research carried out by Refugee Action for their new report Turning words into action, shows that these cuts to funding for English lessons for refugees are leading to isolation, loneliness and an inability to get jobs.

In a survey of refugees across England, almost two thirds of respondents felt they hadn’t received enough hours of English language teaching, and an even bigger proportion said they weren’t confident that their current level of English makes them ready to work in the UK. Appallingly 76% of refugee women have reported that a lack of childcare support has limited their ability to access ESOL. This is unacceptable.

The government must take urgent action to reverse the cuts to ESOL. English provision is an essential element in creating an inclusive and equal society. Over the last year I have been deeply concerned by reports of increasing hate crime, loneliness, and gender inequality affecting refugee communities. Government under-funding of further education is damaging the lives of people offered sanctuary here.

The Home Secretary himself has stated that a ‘common language is perhaps the most obvious foundational layer for shared identity’. It’s time to turn the warm words into action and let refugees learn.

Afzal Khan is Labour MP for Manchester Gorton.

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9 Responses to “Refugee Week: The government is engaged in shameful hypocrisy over ‘integration’”

  1. Tom Sacold

    They come here to sponge off our welfare state.

    Send them back.

  2. clive Baulch

    Tom Sacold (if that is your real name) what an ignorant and appalling comment to make. You should be ashamed of yourself. Everyone of us should do what we can to help to integrate refugees and guest workers for whom English is not their first language.

    Doesn’t anyone ever moderate the comments on here?

  3. Dave Roberts

    I agree Tom Sacold, and why isn’t it is his real name, is yours yours, could have been a little more specific. It is without doubt a matter of fact that many, if not the majority, of refugees/asylum seekers or whatever make long and arduous voyages through several European countries which are perfectly safe in order to reach the UK because they believe that the benefits they receive here and the environment they will be in are better than anywhere else. This is a true and no amount of PC woffle will change that.

    They then retreat into their own communities, intermarry, engage in low paid and very often illegal work for member of their community who may well have been involved in the trafficking and resolutely refuse to integrate. No amount of English lessons will change any of that. The poles, Bulgarians, Rumanians that I work with taught themselves English or aid for lessons because they were motivated to do so.

  4. Andrew Carey

    The frightening part, to me, of Mr Afzal Khan’s piece is his revealed preference for everything being done by the State, by a government handout, and from the centre to boot. Take this blatantly false claim “funding for providers of ESOL classes across England has shrunk shockingly over the past decade, from £212.3m in 2008 to £105m in 2018 – this is a real term cut of almost 60%”. Sure, it’s true if you put ‘central government’ in front of the word funding, but the author didn’t. We all want people to engage in social participation, and to be able to interact with wider society. Language skills help us do that, and you can develop that by paying your own way, joining a society or community group, or using an app on your ‘phone ( many migrants progress through the levels while waiting to cross the Med – who paid for those apps to be developed – it wasn’t the UK central government ). There are lots of ways people fund their ESOL learning.
    What the constituents of Gorton would benefit from in my view is more freedom, not the sort of dependency on government endorsed by their MP who in this article at least measures quality of outcomes in terms of the cash value of central government hand outs.

  5. Andrew Carey

    I’ve got more. Let’s read the best two examples from the Refugee Action report that Mr Afzal Khan mentions in his article that central government funding cuts are causal to the consequences he mentions.
    First up we have Joseph: “spent ten years in a refugee camp in Burundi before coming to the UK with his wife, and their young son and daughter.” Well Burundi according to Wikipedia has official languages of Kurundi, French and English. Ten years, I ask you, to get the two of those that are internationally useful learned, how did he not do it in that time period?
    Second up we have Alanezi: “I have started an English course run by a charity, two half days a week, and it’s so important to me. This course has increased my confidence, and I feel so much better about myself. There is a crèche where I can leave my children ” Well what is the name of this charity? Because I’m a spunktacularly rich armchair right winger and would like to donate a little to it. They are getting results and delivering a service their clients are praising . Refugee Action don’t tell us. Like Afzal Khan they appear to believe that it’s bad form to promote free market philanthropy, perhaps that is because it might work better than channelling lots of taxpayer funds through politically motivated state actors, and we have to keep justifying whatever it is that politicians do.

  6. Dave Roberts

    Dave Carey.
    Yes, all good points and I would like to develop the one about many of the people that we are discussing here already being able to speak English. English is one of the official languages of several dozen countries around the world and is widely spoken in many others.
    Throughout Africa the lingua franca is English because there are so many local languages the only way that a country like Nigeria can function is through the use of English, the same is true of India and in China as many people are learning English as there are in the UK.
    This article like so many on this site has bee written for the sake of something to write. Which is a shame because unlike so many other sites a range of opinions is allowed unlike on Comment is Free at The Guardian which most certainly isn’t free.

  7. Tom Sacold

    The hardworking British working-class have to pay for these people when we know that our own people are living in poverty and we cannot fund the social care for our own disadvantaged. Put British people who fund the Welfare State first !!!

  8. Andrew Carey

    Thanks Dave, and we should be grateful that Left Foot Forward allows right wing ( as in favour of less government ) comment on its pages.
    This from Mr Khan is revealing if you run time backwards “a real term cut of almost 60%. Unsurprisingly, there has been a decline in adult participation in ESOL classes of almost 40% “, and then goes on to say it’s a disgrace.
    If we ran history the other way, we would observe the following data: an increase in real terms central government funding of 150%, and an increase in participation of just 67%.
    No doubt some MP would overlook the bad value here and argue that participation could be increased if even more was sent down the pipe from central funding.

  9. Tom Sacold

    Immigration controls should include qualitative judgement on the immigrant’s ability to integrate into normal British society.

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