The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, which is at the heart of Coventry’s bid for city of culture. Coventry is a city of peace and reconciliation, but one where we reach across diverse communities in the city to make sure that people do not become isolated. I sincerely hope that Coventry will win the bid.
In November 2016, the Government also launched the controlling migration fund, which aims to mitigate the impact of immigration on local communities. It includes a pot of £100 million over four years for which local authorities in England can bid. ESOL is one of several themes eligible under that fund, yet local authorities are under no obligation to fund ESOL projects.
In the March Budget, the Chancellor announced new money for English-language training as part of the midlands engine programme. The Government announced that they would provide
“£2 million to offer English-language training to people in the midlands whose lack of ability to speak English is holding them back from accessing employment.”
What are the stumbling blocks? Theoretically, refugees in England are eligible for fully-funded ESOL provision on the condition that they have attained refugee status and meet the necessary income requirements. However, ESOL funding in England has decreased by 55% in real terms in recent years. More than half of ESOL providers who were interviewed said that their ability to provide high-quality classes had worsened over the past five years, and nearly half said that people were waiting an average of six months or more to start lessons. One provider had 800 people on their waiting list and another said that learners could wait three years to be assigned to a course. Those timescales have adverse effects on the mental health of refugees, who are likely to be experiencing social isolation. The longer they have to wait to get an English-language class that enables them to learn the language and break that isolation, the harder it becomes.