New research shows refugees suffering from lack of English classes

By agency reporter
June 17, 2019

New figures released by the charity Refugee Action reveal that cuts to funding for English lessons for refugees is leading to isolation, loneliness and an inability to get jobs – despite strong backing from the public for ministers to tackle the problem.

The funding for providers of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes across England has shrunk dramatically over the past decade, from £212.3 million in 2008 to £105 million in 2018 – a real terms cut of almost 60 per cent. This means refugees have long waits to access classes, don’t receive adequate hours to learn properly and the lack of childcare provision means parents are often unable to take part in classes at all.

In a new report called Turning Words into Action, the charity highlights the stark contrast between the Government’s rhetoric on supporting everyone in the country, including refugees, to learn English, and the lack of concrete action and new funding needed to achieve this goal. The report shows the reality of living with little or no English, despite a strong desire to learn, and the seclusion experienced by many refugees in the UK. Learning English unlocks people’s potential to find work, volunteer and make friends with their new neighbours.

Stephen Hale, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, said: “Imagine being forced to flee your home, leave behind your belongings and your entire life, and arriving in a country where you don’t know what anyone is saying. You can’t book a doctor’s appointment, read street signs or even fill out the forms you need to get your children into a school.

“Refugees are acutely aware learning English is critical for integration. Politicians keep telling us how strongly they agree. But where’s the action? The steeps cuts in funding for English language classes means we’re letting refugees down, denying people the chance to become an active part of our society and fulfil their potential.”

The report contains a survey of 128 refugees across England and key findings include:

  • Almost two thirds said they didn’t think they’d received enough ESOL teaching hours
  • More than three quarters of refugee parents said that lack of childcare had been a barrier to their ability to attend English lessons
  • Two out of every three questioned said they weren’t confident that their current level of English makes them ready to work in the UK

New research shows members of the public support Government action to support refugees to learn English. A recent poll by YouGov of over 1,800 people revealed that 91 per cent think it’s important that refugees who come to the UK learn to speak English; while of those who expressed a preference, 86 per cent said that they support Government proposals to invest in services and resources specifically targeted at helping refugees learn English.

Joseph is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo but spent ten years in a refugee camp in Burundi before coming to the UK with his wife, and their young son and daughter. He works in a factory packing food. Joseph said: “Back home we learnt some English, but not a lot. When we first arrived, we had classes once a week. This ended after three or four weeks. We really struggled.

“I then started going to an adult learning centre after nine months but one day a week wasn’t enough. People’s level of English and learning abilities were very different, so I feel that I did not benefit that much. I was feeling so bad, because I didn’t know the system, couldn’t communicate – I was lost.

“I had a situation when I had to go to hospital for problems with my liver. I couldn’t communicate with the doctor, and there was no interpreter there. When you know the language, life will be much easier for you – you can speak to people, start to work – this is good for the country. I really want to improve my English. Who knows, maybe one day I can become a manager – once my English is good enough.”

Alenezi from Kuwait arrived in the UK four years ago. She has small children and caring for them has been a barrier to her accessing English classes. She said: “I have children, and I’ve got to speak English to help them get what they need, speak to their teachers, talk to people – everything. And I want to integrate into British society. If I speak English, I will be able to help my children learn, help them with homework, and help them learn the things they need to know.

“How can I begin to describe this feeling – I feel devastated, I feel embarrassed. Sometimes when I go to hospital appointments, I feel that everything is cloudy.

“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 for the duration of the course. This is important because I have peace of mind and can study."

Refugee Action’s Let Refugees Learn campaign is calling on the Government to provide full and equal access to English language lessons for all refugees; and for ministers to ensure funding is made available so that all refugees have access to quality English language teaching.

* Read Turning Words into Action here

* Refugee Action


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