My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of the English language for refugee integration. The Government have provided additional funding of £10 million under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme for more English classes, childcare facilities and local co-ordination of English language provision. English language tuition is also available for refugees under the arrangements for adult learners.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer and for the very helpful meeting she had with me to discuss this. Since that meeting, has she had the chance to reflect on the 60% reduction in ESOL funding since 2010, the desirability of extending the guaranteed eight hours a week of teaching to all refugees, and the role that voluntary projects can play alongside statutory provisions? Is it not the case that language is the most important precondition for full participation in British society, and that if refugees are unable to speak English, it compromises their ability to integrate, with negative social, employment and security implications?
I totally agree with the noble Lord about English language skills being the key to employment, integration and contributing to wider society in general. As I said, we have made more than £10 million available over five years, and local authorities are required to arrange a minimum of eight hours’ formal tuition a week within a month of arrival and for a period of 12 months, or until the individual reaches ESOL entry level 3.
My Lords, there has been a huge cut in the funding of ESOL, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. Without being able to speak English, refugees, having fled conflict, have to cope with loneliness and isolation as well. Can the Minister explain to the House the Government’s comprehensive strategy for ESOL in England and how they will co-ordinate it with the devolved institutions?
For refugees, which is what the Question is about, our ESOL strategy is that local authorities have to arrange a minimum of eight hours’ formal language tuition a week within a month of arrival and for a period of 12 months, or until that person reaches ESOL entry level 3. ESOL is a route to employment, and we want people who arrive here as refugees to be able to access the labour market as quickly as possible, because many of them will be quite highly skilled.
My Lords, I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Does my noble friend agree that, as well as resourcing, it is important that in teaching English as a second language the focus is on how we teach it, where we teach it and when we teach it, to allow full access for people coming into this country? Is she aware of a specific Department for Communities and Local Government programme which was put in place in 2013 to effectively expand the way in which English as a second language is taught? Can she tell us about the success of that programme and whether there are any plans to extend it?
If my noble friend is talking about the same programme I am thinking of, Talk English, it was an excellent initiative, of which I saw an example up in Manchester. The parents, in particular the mothers, dropped their children off at school and then went into the school and were taught English. Things like that not only make women feel part of their children’s environment but also make them feel part of the community in which they live. I remember asking one mother what it was about Manchester that she liked so much. She said, “I love the rain”.
My Lords, the Minister has referred to £10 million of funding over five years for additional ESOL teaching, and that is very welcome. But is it not the case that this will benefit only resettled Syrian refugees, meaning that the great majority of refugees in the UK are locked out? On investment for these programmes, the Minister should take comfort from the fact that there is huge public support for funding teaching English for all refugees.
I certainly agree with the noble Baroness that refugees generally should be able to learn English. What I am talking about today is a £10 million fund for resettled refugees, but tuition is available to refugees under arrangements for adult learners as well.
My Lords, in 2016, Dame Louise Casey conducted a review on extremism. She stressed the importance of integration, which reduced the chances of extremism, and of course speaking English increases the chances of integration. The £10 million that the Minister referred to has certainly helped to assist resettled Syrians, but could that same commitment to provide eight hours of English training be provided to all other refugees as well? That might enhance the strategy mentioned by the Opposition.
My Lords, as I explained to my noble friend Lady Warsi, English language tuition is also available to refugees under the adult learners scheme. But the noble Lord is absolutely right: integration is the key to tackling extremism and the English language is the key to enabling that integration.