An independent think tank focussing on migration and integration issues, has called the UK government to set up a new free-to-air television channel. According to the report published by British Future this channel will aim to improve English language skills for the migrants in the community.
“Refugees in the UK are desperate to learn English. They know that learning the language is the key to finding work, studying, getting to know their neighbours and contributing to their new community,” said Paul Hook, Head of Campaigns at Refugee Action.
Non-native English speakers learn the language at different time spans and depending on multiple factors, such as their learning abilities, the age at which they migrated or their exposure to the language before and after moving to the UK. The availability and cost of English language training (ESOL) is one of these factors. However, funding for English lessons for refugees and other migrants have been slashed by over 60% within the last decade.
60% funding cuts for ESOL courses
“Too often refugees have to wait months and sometimes years before they can even start English lessons. We are calling on the Government to invest in ESOL so that all refugees in Britain have prompt access to a minimum 8 hours a week of good quality English languages classes; and through that, start to rebuild their lives,” continued Paul.
Latest figures suggest that there are approximately 800,000 people who are not able to converse in English. According to the census data more than 6 in 10 people from an Indian or Pakistani background spoke English as their main language, and a further 3 in 10 didn't speak English as their main language but spoke it very well. Among the South Asian groups that fell below this threshold, less than half (47.9 per cent) of people from a Bangladeshi background spoke English as their main language, 13.2 per cent spoke English but not well, and 3 per cent didn't speak English at all.
Earlier in his address prime minister Boris Johnson had said that he had wanted everyone in the UK to be able to speak in English. British Future in its report Speaking up: The case for universal fluency in English suggests that “the government should make an additional 150 million pounds per year available for ESOL over the next four years, allocating this extra funding in the one-year spending round and over the 2021-2024 spending period.”
“Speaking English is a foundation key to integration. Sajid Javid told British Future in June, shortly before becoming Chancellor, that he wants to 'put rockets' under this programme - and now has the chance to make sure that happens.
“English teaching does need more funding and more money should be spent in the right way to maximise its impact. The strategy proposed by British Future makes the case for combining different approaches to meet different needs,” said Sunder Katwala, director of British Future.
Proposed scrapping of three-year UK resident requirement
Additionally, the report highlights that the Government should scrap the requirement for students to have been resident in the UK for three years to qualify for free or co-funded courses. It states that ESOL should be free for asylum-seekers and all adults living in households in receipt of means-tested benefits. Over the years charities such as Refugee Council and Refugee action have also highlighted that the lack of ESOL classes lead to isolation, inability to secure a job and depression among migrants. A survey of ESOL providers also showed that prospective learners faced an average wait of six months or more to get a spot on a course.
“There is unmet demand for formal teaching - and a need for more formal classes. But many people work long hours and find it difficult to attend daytime college classes. So there is also a need for regular but short (one-hour) classes, before and after work, provided in or near workplaces or in schools.
“A new strategy should encourage innovation too, including setting up the Learning English freeview channel and supporting conversation clubs. A Learning English freeview TV channel is a cost-effective way to offer flexible learning, that can support and complement formal classes,” Sunder concluded.
Immigrants can watch reruns of Only Fools and Horses, Fawlty Towers and Midsomer Murders on TV channel broadcast to help them integrate into British culture as part of the proposed strategy.