Austerity measures have resulted in the loss of £100m funding from the Adult Education Budget for English lessons for refugees who desperately need language skills to help them integrate in society and secure employment. There are approximately 800,000 people living in the UK who cannot speak English and a lack of language classes has caused refugees to feel isolated, lonely and worried about finding work. A survey by Refugee Action found that two-thirds of refugees felt their English level was too low to allow them to find work.
Refugee Action described the difficulties faced by refugees – they arrive in the UK to find they cannot read street signs or communicate problems to medical staff, and that there is very limited access to English classes to help them better their position. Despite the government professing that language acquisition is essential for integration, there still remains a severe lack in funding for English lessons.
ESOL providers carried out a survey that found that refugees have to wait between four and six months on average before receiving a place on English language courses. Women are often the most challenged, as mothers are unable to afford childcare costs and may not be able to attend lessons once they have secured their place on a course. This then negatively impacts on the family, as mothers feel unable to guide their children in learning the language themselves and to understand key communications in their children’s lives, for example speaking with their teacher or explaining their illnesses to a doctor.
The Department for Education has stated that it is committed to improving access to English lessons and that it invested almost £100m of the Adult Education Budget in English language skills acquisition in 2016-2017. They are also planning to publish an ESOL strategy, the first of its kind in England, in autumn 2019.