English for Speakers of Other Languages — [Ms Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:26 am on 3rd July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

[Ms Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development) 2:30 pm, 3rd July 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered funding for the provision of English for speakers of other languages.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I am grateful for the opportunity to open this debate, which is about a subject that is close to my heart and to my community: the urgent need to invest in English as a second language, particularly for refugees.

I am fortunate to represent a place that is diverse, inclusive and welcoming. I am proud to be from a city of sanctuary, because almost 500 people living in Birmingham have arrived since the beginning of the Syrian vulnerable person resettlement scheme. Last summer, I was fortunate to meet 12 people from Syria who have started new lives in Birmingham, supported by Refugee Action. They shared with me their experiences of life in the UK, and spoke about how respectful and kind those around them have been, how comfortably their children have settled into local schools and what a great place Birmingham has been to live in. The biggest problem that almost everyone wanted to raise with me was the lack of sufficient access to English language learning.

People had different reasons for wanting to improve their English. For one family, it was to ensure they could communicate properly with healthcare professionals to support their daughter with her complex health needs. For another, is was so that they could speak English well enough to pass their UK driving test. For another man, it was so that he could take up the profession he held back home in Syria as a football coach.

Earlier today I met Nour, a Syrian refugee living in Birmingham—he is in the Gallery listening to the debate. Nour is a passionate champion of the importance of learning English, and I want to share with Members his powerful words:

“When you start to speak English fluently, it means you can get a good job and make your dreams come true. I am working hard. I want to create a company like Microsoft. You will see—I will achieve my dreams and goals.”

The experiences of this group of refugees is mirrored by many people of different backgrounds, who have different motivations but the same ambition to be able to communicate better with the community around them. We should support that ambition and be a country that is open and welcoming, but that requires providing people with support after they arrive here. Language classes are fundamental in building cohesive communities, yet many barriers exist for people to access classes and they struggle to find the opportunity to learn to speak English.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. It is clear that there is support from both the refugee community and the British public for having these classes. Does she agree that there are particular concerns that women with children are prevented from accessing these classes, because there is no provision for children?

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and I will touch on that later in my speech.

Government cuts to English for speakers of other languages over the past decade have been ruthless; let us not pretend otherwise. Refugee Action’s report, “Turning Words into Action”, shows that Government funding for ESOL in England fell from £212.3 million in 2008 to £105 million in 2018. That is a shocking real-terms cut of almost 60% in a decade. Unsurprisingly, this decline in funding has been accompanied by a decline in adult participation in ESOL classes by nearly 40% over the same period.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate, which is about a subject many of us have been raising over the last nine years as we have seen the erosion of courses. Does she recognise that there is a new threat to funding for ESOL courses, because the European social fund has been a significant supporter of those courses? Does she hope that the Minister will today give a commitment to match, pound for pound, funding from the European social fund for ESOL courses in future?

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention, and he is right. So many Members across the House have been campaigning for this over the past decade. I hope that the Minister will respond to his request.

Last month a report by the Government’s social research team, using methodology agreed with the Department for Education, found that the demand for English language teaching was high, with almost three quarters of survey respondents reporting a “significant demand” for English language learning provision in the communities they serve. However, providers are struggling to meet that demand. Over half the respondents found it “fairly difficult” to meet demand, and one in eight found it “very difficult”. The overstretching of these providers hits learners hard, particularly the most vulnerable. New research carried out by Refugee Action found that 59% of refugees did not think they had received enough ESOL teaching hours and only 34% of respondents felt that their current level of English was enough to make them ready to work in the UK.

Third sector organisations are unable to fill these gaps because limited funding means they have little or no access to hardware and technology to support their teaching.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy)

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. She makes the point about third sector provision. In my constituency, First Step and the Angelou Centre provide ESOL classes, as well as Newcastle City Council and Newcastle College, but because of the devastating cuts they are in no way able to meet demand. My constituents and refugees in Newcastle often speak to me about the need to increase ESOL provision so that it is not just a lucky few who are able to receive the gift of the English language.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

It is important that we hear first-hand experiences from Members representing their communities about how difficult it has been and the impact of cuts.

It is disingenuous for the Education Secretary to praise ESOL as a way towards social mobility and inclusion without providing much needed resources. Women are disproportionately impacted by barriers to ESOL and they miss out on the benefits that those who are able to learn English gain. More than three quarters of parents said that a lack of childcare had been a barrier to their ability to attend English lessons. For those on a low income, practical and logistical barriers exist. A quarter of refugee respondents, for example, had not been able to access any financial assistance to pay for travel to classes. That can mean people are forced to miss classes because they are unable to travel to them.

Some groups are excluded altogether from accessing English, such as asylum seekers, who in England become eligible for funding only if they have been waiting for a decision on their claim for six months or longer. That includes a broader issue with the current resettlement process that researchers from the University of Sussex found is leading

“to a tragic waste of refugees’ unfulfilled potential”.

The Government frequently talk about the importance of ESOL provision for refugees. Back in 2016, after many years of ESOL cuts, pressure from the Opposition Benches, from charities and from civil society organisations forced the Government to give additional funding for people arriving under the Syrian vulnerable person resettlement scheme. Although welcome, this fairly modest pot of money supported only one group of people to learn English, and therefore cannot be seen as a solution to the wider problems of access to ESOL.

The Government’s 2018 integrated communities Green Paper acknowledged the vital importance of English for integration but gave no new money specifically for ESOL. In their 2018 immigration White Paper, the Government committed to

“an ambitious and well-funded English language strategy to ensure that everyone in this country, especially those with newly recognised refugee status, are supported to speak the same language”.

Once again, however, there was no new funding. The Government’s failure to act flies in the face of public opinion, which is strongly in favour of supporting people to learn English. For example, recent independent polling by YouGov shows that 91% of the British public believe it is important that refugees who come to the UK learn to speak English. If the Government are serious about allowing everyone the possibility to learn English, investment must be made, not empty promises.

Informal ESOL learning groups run by volunteers and community organisations across the country are a vital part of learning, and we know that they are often fantastic community assets. There is good work ongoing to help reach learners in segmented communities, and we should continue to work to ensure that such groups are joined up and co-ordinated.

There are other innovative forms of ESOL that should also be encouraged. In September, the adult education budget will be devolved to six combined authorities and the Greater London Authority, allowing for creative regional ways of delivering ESOL teaching. For example, the West Midlands Combined Authority is currently exploring ways of delivering more ESOL in workplaces, specific to certain sectors, to firm up the link between learning English and employment. Those new powers and responsibilities need to be matched with appropriate resources, so will the Minister tell us what they will be?

Thus far the Government have ignored the moral case, but perhaps they will listen to the economic one. Much of people’s passion to learn English comes from their desire to find work. Although it is certainly only part of the integration picture, for many it is the main motivation to learn. If people had access to eight hours of ESOL classes a week, the taxpayer would be fully reimbursed for two years of those classes after an individual’s first eight months of employment at the national average wage. In the case of supporting refugees to access ESOL, the cost of providing that volume of learning would be just £42 million a year.

Moreover, leaving people to flounder without the ability to speak the language can have a detrimental effect on their mental health and wellbeing, and lead to isolation and loneliness, all of which are extremely costly to the state and society. Investing in people who want to learn English is a smart thing to do.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Will she join me in suggesting that the Minister might do well to look at the German example? All refugees in Germany have access to a 600-hour language course, which enables them to learn to speak German. Clearly the German Government and the German economy see an economic return on that investment, as well as a social return in terms of mental wellbeing.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention. I was not aware of the German example, and I think that the Minister will be keen to look at it after this debate.

All political parties talk of the importance of helping people to become productive, equal partners in their communities, and supporting people such as Nour to achieve their goals. However, too often the cuts to ESOL that we have seen under the coalition and Conservative Governments have prevented that from happening.

Today I want to ask the Minister four questions. First, will she act now to ensure that everyone can learn English? Secondly, will she commit to producing a formal ESOL strategy for England? Thirdly, what steps is she taking to ensure that people who face particular barriers to learning, such as those with caring responsibilities or difficult travel arrangements, are given the resources they need to overcome them, and to ensure that ESOL provision is always accessible? Finally, in order to have an inclusive, welcoming country, additional investment is necessary to ensure that everyone who needs it is given the opportunity to access high-quality, sufficient English language teaching, so will she support my call and take these demands to the Treasury in advance of the forthcoming spending review?

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 2:42 pm, 3rd July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I will start with a reference to the all-party parliamentary group on social integration, which correctly provided a statement that, to be successful at getting ESOL taught, we had to recognise that we were up against cultural norms among the groups to whom we were trying to provide the language training. I remember 11 or 12 years ago, when I was a councillor in Oxford, seeing groups of women in particular who had been coming to English classes for five or six years, but whose English was no better than on the day they first went. It was an opportunity for them to get out of the house and have social interaction with other people on the course.

ESOL teaching can be useful for that purpose of providing social interaction, but that does take away from the purpose of providing the language tuition that we all think is important. Fortunately, most refugees do not fall into that category; they passionately want to learn English. There are many reasons for doing that: for talking to neighbours, for having that normal family social interaction, for studying and, most importantly, for work-related activities.

Much of the thinking about teaching English stresses the need for a community-based strategy. I am not sure that I understand what a community-based strategy is in this case, particularly given that so much of the English-language training is provided by large local government organisations that can hardly be described as community-based in the way they operate. At some point we will have to bottom that out when we talk about how these services should be delivered in the best possible way.

I have mentioned that it is essential to run language training courses for large refugee communities; it is essential to run them for all refugees, but particularly so where there are large refugee communities. My own constituency does not have any, so I can speak on this with a touch of objectivity, and look at that training to see how it proceeds. I have also already mentioned the importance of English language training for people getting a job, but that also leads to another question: what role should employers have in providing English language training for people to whom they offer jobs? That is much more than simply the social mixing that I talked about at the beginning.

The ability to teach the English language affects so many other areas. One area that it affects particularly is that of loneliness; if a refugee is lonely and does not have the right language skills, they will be even lonelier. It is essential to be able to address that. I remember reading the story of a refugee lawyer who spoke very little English, but who wanted to be able to continue to practise law when she came to the UK with her family. To be able to practise UK law in the UK, she had to take a conversion course. The stories that were told of the difficulties she faced in finding that sort of language training, just to be able to keep her family alive in the way to which they were normally accustomed, made for a sorrowful tale, and it is one I would recommend to all hon. Members.

Finally, I will mention, as I frequently do in this Chamber, the work of the Council of Europe. The UK is a member of the Council of Europe and it is rare that we take what it does into account. It has a programme called “Linguistic Integration of Adult Migrants”, which is there specifically to ensure that member Governments of the Council provide the linguistic training that is essential for migrants to be able to improve themselves by learning the language so that they can do all the things that we take for granted.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Labour, Halifax 2:48 pm, 3rd July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under you, Ms Dorries. I thank my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill not only for securing this debate, but for her incredibly insightful opening speech, in which she very articulately made the case for ESOL funding.

Only a week ago, I had the pleasure of showing a group of ESOL learners from Halifax around Westminster, as part of a trip organised by Halifax Opportunities Trust to complement their studies. They were a wonderful group of people, each with a different story to tell, but all of them enthusiastic about the opportunity to gain a better understanding of their adopted Parliament, how it works and its relationship to their lives. While they are still studying English, it was their ability to ask questions and understand the answers that empowered them to truly experience Parliament as participants, rather than simply as observers along for the ride.

However, although almost everyone understands the value of being able to speak English, ESOL provision is harder to access than ever before. As we have heard, Government funding for ESOL in England fell from £212.3 million in 2008 to £105 million in 2018—a real-terms cut of almost 60%. Unsurprisingly, Calderdale College in my constituency has had to reduce its ESOL provision by 50%, despite an increase in the number of learners seeking it. We expect the publication of the national ESOL strategy in the autumn. With YouGov polling suggesting that 91% of the British public believe it important that refugees and others who come to the UK should learn to speak English, we know that there is overwhelming support for investment in ESOL as a means for that to happen.

Here in Westminster, I vice-chair the all-party parliamentary group on social integration, which John Howell mentioned. In 2017, we published our “Integration not Demonisation” report, which argued that the ability to speak English is one of the key principles underpinning healthy and successful integration within communities. As part of the call for evidence for that report, it was a pleasure to welcome the all-party parliamentary group to Halifax, where the chair and I met with those involved in integration work.

Office for National Statistics research published in the report suggests that approximately 800,000 people living in the UK at the time of the 2011 census could not speak English—2% of the population. In some areas with large numbers of immigrants, including Newham, Brent, Tower Hamlets and Leicester, that can be as high as 9% of the population. Further to this, 22% of Muslim women in the UK self-report that they are unable to speak English well.

To address that, the report recommended that the Government should introduce a national strategy for the promotion of English language learning, which would unleash the economic potential of immigrants, enabling newcomers to participate fully in British life and ensuring that everyone in our society can benefit from meeting and mixing with others from different cultures. We went so far as to say that enrolment in English language classes should be compulsory, acknowledging the Casey review findings that, in some communities, regressive cultural and family norms and practices can prevent the most vulnerable from learning English.

We also asserted that the ability to learn English should be a right extended to everyone. We argued that, while the Department for Education should lead that work, it should be delivered with input from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and other relevant Departments to ensure that it was as effective as possible.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and a lot of good points. The Government found £10 million in 2016 for Syrian refugees to undertake ESOL classes. If there is money for Syrian refugees, surely there is money for all the communities that need it.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Labour, Halifax

My hon. Friend makes the important point that we recognised the importance of Syrian refugees being able to speak English, but we have not delivered the funding to extend that programme to other newcomers to our country. We should reflect on that.

Ahead of the publication of the national ESOL strategy in the autumn, I was glad to see that the Government’s immigration White Paper, published in December last year, commits to

“an ambitious and well-funded English language strategy to ensure that everyone in this country, especially those with newly recognised refugee status, are supported to speak the same language.”

However, these proposals contain no new funding for English language teaching, which the strategy will have to address later this year. The ability to speak English is important for many reasons, not least, as I have mentioned, because it is integral to integration. If someone cannot speak English, their ability to find work, meet and converse with people and access everyday services is severely restricted. For someone to be trapped in a world where they cannot interact with those around them will leave them desperately isolated and vulnerable.

There is strong public support for ESOL, not least because it would be a sensible investment. Research undertaken by Refugee Action—I am pleased to see members of the team in the Gallery—shows that it would cost £42 million a year to ensure two years’ ESOL for each refugee arriving in the UK, which would in effect be fully reimbursed to the taxpayer within the first eight months of that individual’s employment at the national average wage.

The Casey review looked at opportunity and integration. Published in December 2016, it made it clear that good English skills are fundamental to integrated communities and particularly important as a means of empowering marginalised women and other socially isolated groups. However, when it comes to working with those groups in particular, and as much as I welcome learning in the community, I am sympathetic to some of the points already made about how effective learning in the community needs to be. I have seen good examples of that and I have seen bad examples.

The Women’s Activity Centre in Halifax, which does a great deal to support older, isolated women, predominantly from the Kashmiri community, for whom the inability to speak English is a significant contributor to loneliness and isolation, was approached by an organisation that offered to come in and deliver ESOL. The organisation came in, signed everyone up, took some photos and then brought in an eastern European interpreter who unfortunately could not communicate with that specific group of learners at all. After two lessons, on realising that this approach was futile, they failed to return, letting all those women down. When funding for ESOL is so precious, knowing that dedicated funds can be wasted in that way, delivering no social benefit to those who most need it, is painful for everyone involved.

I have been working closely with Sisters United in Halifax—truly inspirational women who are working alongside Refugee Action to support its “Let Refugees Learn” campaign. Refugee Action has called for refugees to have a minimum of eight hours formal, accredited tuition a week for their first two years in the UK, which, as I have mentioned, would cost £42 million a year, although that would be repaid within the first eight months of a refugee’s being in work. Alongside this, I lend my support to Refugee Action’s “Lift the Ban” campaign, which seeks to promote integration and facilitate opportunities to improve language skills by allowing refugees to work while awaiting a decision on their status.

ESOL provision represents value for money. We know that the demand is there, but at the moment the provision is not. If we are looking for ways of ensuring, now more than ever, that we foster healthy, integrated communities, investing in ESOL would be a really constructive way of supporting those aims.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green 2:56 pm, 3rd July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries; many thanks for squeezing me in at the last minute. I put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill for introducing this important topic and for securing the debate.

It is only two weeks since Refugee Week, when Citizens UK came into Parliament with a young man from my constituency from Syria, Mouteb, who spoke for the first time in beautiful English, even though he had never been to school before because he was in a refugee camp. He appeared in a beautiful school uniform and looked so proud, which was such a wonderful tribute to the work done with refugees when things go well. The group that he is with is supported by Citizens UK but is part of the Government’s Syrian community sponsorship programme, which I am sure the Minister is aware of. That programme could stop in September 2020 if it is not renewed. I hope that the Minister will think about passing that on to Home Office colleagues, so that this important programme, which is a great example of community cohesion, can be maintained.

One local sponsor, who goes to the Methodist church in Muswell Hill, said:

“Community support leads to more successful, faster integration of new migrants than local authority support, and the involvement of people across communities in resettlement can, in time, change the way a whole society treats refugees.”

That is a real tribute to this group, from all different faith backgrounds, who have clubbed together to provide a sort of family around the family, if you like, for these Syrian refugees. Mouteb’s speaking in a meeting in Parliament is a great example of that.

The other group I pay tribute to on its teaching of English as a second language is the JAN Trust, a fantastic organisation in my constituency that particularly helps isolated women, a group that my hon. Friend Holly Lynch mentioned. It helps women to escape the drudgery of housework and endless hours of childcare; much as one loves one’s children, those hours can go on and on. Getting in front of a whiteboard and being taught by a lovely teacher—ESOL teachers happen to be lovely people, on the whole; that is a terrible stereotype, but they are—provides a wonderful escape for those women.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Labour, Halifax

My hon. Friend is making an important point. I have worked with older women in my community who are at an age where they need regular medical appointments and support in the home, but because they are unable to communicate, not only do we deny them that escape, but they struggle to access basic services that the rest of us take for granted.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

Absolutely: it provides a crucial line into a more purposeful existence as a member of the community. There is a real opportunity here, particularly for older women who might not necessarily have had education through to 18 or 21 in the way that many of our younger women do now. I often think about my own grandmother. She left school at 14 and had some quite unusual views, many of which we had clashes over. I often think that if she had had the opportunity to go to school to the age of 21, she would have made a fuller contribution in her different roles.

A lot of women, including those who escaped violence and conflict and who therefore stopped school very young, have this amazing lifeline through our colleges and places such as the JAN Trust, and with the support provided by Citizens UK. Further education colleges have been cut by 50% since 2010 and they are really struggling, but in my constituency, the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London is doing a fantastic job to provide a lifeline, not just for women but for all adults, to escape that terrible prison that people find themselves in when they do not speak the language of their host country.

I want briefly to mention the issue of teachers’ pay. Six months ago, a fantastic teacher of English as an additional language came in to lobby me. She is a constituent, but teaches at City and Islington College, which has now merged with Westminster Kingsway and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London. She said that if she taught in a school, she would be paid way more than for teaching ESL. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at the wage level, because in these difficult times it is important that we assist people to stay in these important roles in the public sector. Those on a relatively low wage also have lower pension contributions, and sick leave and annual leave entitlements can also be different. In general, that two-tier approach to teaching must be stopped.

I reiterate the suggestion made by my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield that funding to support ESL be continued, or that the Government at least pledge to continue that important work. It would be terrible to lose that. There are important campaigns, such as “Lift the Ban”, which my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax mentioned, which aims to assist asylum seekers, once they have made their application, in being able to work more flexibly, and to start as quickly as possible. It would be a shame for English language classes not to go alongside that.

I moved a private Member’s Bill a couple of months back and was extremely impressed by the range of people I met who would love to be in work. As we are all aware, many refugees come from well-trained backgrounds, perhaps with a medicine degree, or have backgrounds in pharmacy, teaching or engineering, and they arrive in the UK without any English. If they could learn English as quickly as possible, they would be able to work. The “Lift the Ban” campaign calls for the Home Office’s occupation shortage list to be much more flexible and open.

I have raised that issue with the Home Secretary on two occasions in the House, and he said that it was under review. I also raised it with the Immigration Minister, who said that the Government were looking at it. In the way that our wonderful civil servants are used to passing on little notes to other Departments, I hope that the Home Office will look at this again with some urgency, particularly as we have people who are often very well qualified, but find it difficult to find work quickly.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

Prior to entering Parliament, I helped the Cardigan Centre in my constituency to gain lottery funding for an ESOL café. Because they were asylum seekers, many of those people could not access ESOL elsewhere. They were learning English to try to enter work, but they could not, because of the ban. A lot of them had backgrounds from the occupation shortage list. There is a demand and there is this waiting. They cannot get statutory ESOL and have to use charitable ESOL. Those people face both those issues.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. There is also a terrible issue with transport to colleges. For destitute asylum seekers, it is very difficult to manage on the current rate of £5.37 an hour. It is doubly difficult when they need to pay for expensive buses, particularly outside London. I understand from recent debates in the House that buses outside London are more expensive even than in our high-value city. There are costs associated with getting to lessons, and this all needs to be looked at in the round.

I thank you again, Ms Dorries, for allowing me to speak with very little notice. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston again, and all other colleagues who have made such fantastic contributions to the debate. I look forward to hearing the shadow spokespersons and the Minister’s response.

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Keighley 3:05 pm, 3rd July 2019

I am particularly grateful to you, Ms Dorries, for fitting me in, almost beyond the last minute. As I often am, I was inspired to speak by my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend Holly Lynch. Keighley often looks for inspiration to Halifax—I say that as someone who was born in Halifax—and there are similarities between the communities.

In Bradford, there are 25,000 people who cannot speak English or do not speak it well. In Keighley, the figure is just under 3,000. Together with Bradford Council, I hosted a conference on integration in line with the Government’s strategy earlier in the year. One of the top targets that we agreed on was to try to get that figure down in the next five years. We will never get it down to zero, but we will try to get everyone in Keighley speaking English, because it is a liberating and progressive thing to be able to speak English in our society.

We have heard the arguments about employability and loneliness and so on. Let me add one more that comes up, which I find works in the discussions I have with different communities: it is really up there if parents can to speak English. How can anyone possibly guide their children in towns such as Keighley, where many good things but also one or two bad things go on from time to time, and how can anyone make judgments about their children’s friends and the activities they take part in, without speaking English?

It is a wonderful thing that there are so many groups in Keighley. The Sangat Centre works very much with the Kashmiri community. There is the Good Shepherd Centre, a redundant church that was not needed by the Catholic Church that has now become a vibrant centre; English teaching is one of the things that goes on there. In all the centres, there is a big waiting list for the free English lessons, which are largely financed by the community.

We must be inventive. In colleges of education—Keighley stands out in my mind, of course—people are sometimes reluctant to take examinations, but to get the funding, examinations are needed. The one course that really works in Keighley is in driving test theory with English language. Everyone wants to learn to drive in Keighley. Adding some English language teaching to that means it suddenly becomes even more popular, and it also suddenly becomes eligible for funding.

There is also innovation in some of the schools in Keighley. In St Andrew’s, Holycroft and Victoria Primary Schools, English language lessons—and maths lessons as well—are held between 11 am and 1 pm, with a second session from 1 pm to 3 pm, so that parents can come along during the school day, knowing that their kids are at school.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

Is my hon. Friend aware of Duncombe School, a school of excellence? It provides GCSEs in Turkish and other community languages, so that those who missed out—once again, it is particularly women—can complete qualifications in other languages, meaning that they are proficient in two languages?

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Keighley

That is an inspiration; that example is not from Halifax, but we can take inspiration from all round the country. Second chances are very important in learning.

I have little else to add, other than to say that we are grateful in Bradford and Keighley for the money that has come from the integrated communities programme, which I hope will last for more than the current period of three years, because by the time it gets up and running we are halfway into it. To really integrate communities and use the power of the English language to bring about cohesion takes a while, and it can take years, so I hope that in the coming months Ministers will give greater certainty about the future of funding. We are excited in Keighley and in West Yorkshire generally about trying to make sure that eventually everyone in our society can speak English and participate fully in our society.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Small Business, Enterprise and Innovation) 3:10 pm, 3rd July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate Preet Kaur Gill on securing this important debate, and I congratulate all the others who were inspired to take part, even if they did so quite late on.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston spoke authoritatively about the problems faced by refugees struggling to learn English in England. She spoke fluently on an issue that she obviously cares passionately about and gave many relevant examples of why it is so important. John Howell spoke about the all-party group on social integration and was able to inject an objective view as there are not many refugees in Henley. He gave us good information about the Council of Europe and the linguistic integration of adult migrants programme. I was not aware of it per se, but it is something that we can all take from here.

Holly Lynch referred to the 60% drop in ESOL funding in England and talked about the work of her all-party group in trying to push Government Departments into doing better. Catherine West talked about funding for Syrian refugees and reminded us all that it is only two weeks since Refugee Week. I, too, was inspired by some of the refugees I met in Parliament during that time. She talked about funding, the JAN Trust and the wage levels of ESOL teachers. As a former further education lecturer, I can vouch for the fact that no one in FE is a slacker. You have to be nimble, light on your feet and able to do several jobs at once, but the sector will always manage to retain staff if they are paid appropriately.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

I want to reiterate the point that someone often needs to be more skilled to teach in an FE setting than in a standard school setting. Does the hon. Lady agree?

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Small Business, Enterprise and Innovation)

I do indeed, based on my own long experience and that of my friend who is in the Gallery listening to this debate.

John Grogan hosted a conference on integration and he talked about how the ability to speak English is liberating. I loved the idea of Keighley College doing a course in driving test theory with English. We often need a hook to draw people in and to get funding—again, another problem in further education—and that is a real winner.

The Scottish Government are committed to the principle that all Scottish residents for whom English is not a first language should have the opportunity to access high-quality English language provision. Access to English language lessons allows people to acquire the language skills to enable them to participate in Scottish life: in the workplace, through further study, within the family, the local community and Scottish society, and through the economy. It is one of the joys of life to hear immigrants from all over the world speaking with a broad Scottish accent.

Language skills are central to giving people a democratic voice and supporting them to contribute to the society in which they live. Scotland’s population at the last census was recorded as 5,295,403. The census also showed that more than 310,000, or about 5%, of that population over the age of three spoke a language other than English in the home. ESOL learning is crucial in supporting residents in Scotland for whom English is not a first language. It equips those residents with the communication skills necessary to contribute and integrate economically, culturally and socially, as we have heard from all the speakers today.

To support the delivery of the ESOL programme in line with the national strategy, during 2016-17 funding of almost £1.5 million was allocated to community planning partnerships, which are wide ranging in Scotland. As a result, almost 13,000 learners were recorded as accessing provision, a 24% increase on the numbers recorded in the previous year. Funding is necessary and must be given to promote ESOL. Some 20% of those learners achieved a Scottish Qualifications Authority accreditation, which represents almost 21% of the total number of learning opportunities made available. A total of 129 projects were proposed for the fund and 116 are reported as being complete, giving a 90% completion rate, which is, from my own experience, extraordinary.

Society has changed since the 2007 adult ESOL strategy for Scotland was first launched. Social, political and economic factors have impacted on ESOL provision; these include a change in the profile of refugees and asylum seekers coming to Scotland, and migrants become part of settled communities. There have also been changes to the requirements for English language skills for immigration and welfare benefits and the reform of public services following the Christie commission on the future delivery of public services report. Public services in Scotland are adapting to cuts in funding under Tory austerity, while technology becomes increasingly prevalent and public services and personal lives are challenged to maximise the use of technology, which someone cannot access and use if they do not have the language skills.

We know more about the ESOL provision in Scotland, including who delivers, how it is delivered and what is delivered. As a result, the Scottish Government refreshed the English for speakers of other languages strategy for adults in Scotland. The refresh provides an updated and informed context for the provision of publicly funded ESOL in Scotland. It sets it in the broad context of learning in Scotland with the expectation that providers will look at the broader context to inform the direction of provision.

We in the Scottish National party believe that refugees and asylum seekers should be welcomed, supported and integrated into our communities from day one. The New Scots refugee integration strategy for 2018 to 2022 sets out a vision for a welcoming Scotland where refugees and asylum seekers are able to rebuild their lives from the day they arrive. The strategy commits to better access to essential services such as education, housing, health and employment. It recognises the skills, knowledge and resilience that refugees bring, and aims to help people settle, become part of the community and pursue their ambitions. There is not a hostile environment for refugees in Scotland.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for taking a second intervention. Would the Scottish National party join with others in the House to support the Lift the Ban campaign to lift the ban on asylum seekers working once they have done their paperwork?

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Small Business, Enterprise and Innovation)

Absolutely, because the ban undervalues people and the skills that they can bring into the UK. As has already been stated, many refugees bring really good skills with them. If they can then learn English, they can contribute a huge amount to the economy and our society.

In 2010, the literacy action plan emphasised the Scottish Government’s commitment to raising the literacy skills of Scotland’s citizens. The strategic guidance, “Adult Literacies in Scotland 2020”, notes the importance of literacy and language skills for ESOL learners:

“Some adults whose first language is not English may have reading, writing and number difficulties very similar to those encountered by ‘traditional’ literacies learners, due to limited schooling in their first language or because they come from a mainly oral culture.”

It is important to support people whose first language is not English to become full and active citizens. Those adults can make an important contribution to the economic success of Scotland, but to do so they must be able to read, write, speak and understand English. I talk a lot about Scotland, which is my role here, but much of what I am talking about could happen in England as well, with the political will.

For young adults, the 16-plus learning choices framework is a commitment in the senior phase of education that guarantees a place in learning for every eligible young person who wants it. It is the model for helping young people to stay in learning post-16. Provisions that support ESOL learners to find employment have great returns personally, socially and economically. Economic integration can help to reduce isolation in a new country. Increasing the opportunities for individuals to develop and use their skills as best they can is not just a strategy for improved economic performance. It is also an effective way of improving the satisfaction and security of work, promoting the health and wellbeing of individuals and enhancing the fabric of our communities.

Language learning remains an important curriculum area in schools and is supported by “Language Learning in Scotland: A 1+2 Approach”. That policy is aimed at schools, but it notes the potential of language learning in general. Work-based ESOL and ESOL for employability can be considered in the context of the Government’s employability and economic strategies. Refreshing the employability framework for Scotland provides a framework that focuses on jobs and growth and recognises the importance of ESOL in helping to address inequality issues that impact on employability. Providers and practitioners report that migrant workers are now becoming part of settled communities in Scotland. ESOL learners in general are becoming less transient. In that regard, I thank those who work tirelessly to improve the lives of Congolese and Syrian refugees who have settled in my constituency. Those people are welcome, and they contribute to our communities.

Refugee Action has made five recommendations for change and I think it important to restate them. It wants a fund to be created to allow all refugees to receive a minimum eight hours a week of formal, accredited English language teaching. It wants the Government to publish an ESOL strategy for England. It wants to ensure that all refugees have access to ESOL. It wants free English teaching to be provided to people seeking asylum in England from the point of their asylum claim. It wants a national framework for community-based language support to be facilitated. Community-based language support is so important. I have talked jokingly—but perhaps I was not joking too much—about asylum seekers and refugees speaking with a Scottish accent. That absolutely helps to empower them, and to embed them in their communities. When the weans start school at five the mothers know what is going on at the school gate.

All those asks are in line with the SNP Scottish Government strategy. Will the Minister commit to providing for them in England?

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education) 3:23 pm, 3rd July 2019

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. First I want to congratulate my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill, on a speech that not only was superbly constructed but got to the heart of the individual issues. It gave us information about how to address strategy more broadly than the Government have previously done. That breadth was particularly apparent when she listed the different types of refugees she had been dealing with in her constituency, and when she said that starting to speak English fluently means people can get a good job and make their dreams come true.

That applies not only in Birmingham; John Howell may have seen what I thought was a moving piece on BBC Oxford the other day about an Afghan cricketer who came to this country as a refugee and asylum seeker and now plays in the city league in Australia. It was the support of the people of Cumnor, and particularly the cricket club there, that got him through the Home Office barriers. It is important to talk about structure, but we should never forget individuals, and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston did not do that. She rightly paid tribute to the report by Refugee Action and pointed out that there has been no new money. She also made the important point that informal ESOL learning groups are run by volunteers and community organisations. The Minister and I have often jointly supported adult education, but I recall her talking a couple of years ago, at the Learning and Work Institute, about the importance of informal learning and how to coax people into doing things that they might not otherwise do.

There is a moral as well as an economic case for the Government to address. I pay tribute to other Members for their comments and observations in interventions and speeches. My hon. Friend Afzal Khan is of course the Labour Home Office spokesperson on such matters. He talked about how provision for children is a key element of the matter, and also a barrier. My hon. Friend Paul Blomfield made the important point that the European social fund had been a significant contributor to ESOL and asked whether the Minister would guarantee to match that. As far as I am aware, that will probably come substantially from the shared prosperity fund that the Government have talked about.

My hon. Friend Dan Jarvis and other colleagues tried to get some detail about that from the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Jake Berry, in an excellent Westminster Hall debate two months ago—but detail came there none. I do not know whether the Minister today is in a position to say any more today.

My hon. Friend Chi Onwurah talked about the importance of first steps and colleges. The hon. Member for Henley talked about the need to get people’s motivation right, and about issues of loneliness and participation. My hon. Friend Holly Lynch rightly paid tribute to the work being done in her constituency, and also the work of the all-party parliamentary group on social integration. She and my hon. Friend Catherine West made a particular point about the needs of older women. The stats that my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax gave and the two examples that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green talked about powerfully illustrated that argument.

My hon. Friend John Grogan, as well as telling us about the challenges in Bradford and Keighley, probably gave the most memorable soundbite of the afternoon, by combining driving with English, but it is an important point because people want to learn English for specific reasons. That relates to the discussion of and concerns about older people—not just older women—who need ESOL.

Finally, Marion Fellows spoke on these matters from the Front Bench for the SNP, with her customary crispness and warmth. She illustrated some of the challenges, particularly in relation to teaching and further education in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom, and discussed changes in the profile and the specifics of what is happening in Scotland.

ESOL classes offer vital support for people across this country whose first language is not English. They offer them the ability to get the knowledge and skills they need to live more active lives. People rely on those services for many reasons—to be able to speak English and enter work, or as a starting point for education here—in order to feel able to integrate and participate in their communities. Those are important aims, and I know that the Minister will agree with me and colleagues present in Westminster Hall that we must give everyone the support and opportunities to achieve them. In fact, I hope there is cross-party consensus on the issue.

As I have already said, the Minister and I have at various times talked about motivation and the need to reach out to people. The Secretary of State himself has said:

“Improving literacy is vital to improving social mobility”.—[Official Report, 19 March 2018; Vol. 638, c. 6.]

In her review of integration, Louise Casey said:

“English language is a common denominator and a strong enabler of integration.”

Indeed, one would expect Ministers to have been investing substantially in these services for years, given how important they say English language is. As I am afraid has been demonstrated today—it is too often the case—that rhetoric has not been matched in reality since 2010. ESOL funding has been cut by over 50%, from £203 million to £99 million. Sadly, it comes as no surprise that participation has also plummeted. In 2009-10 there were 179,000 learners on funded ESOL courses, but by 2017 the figure had fallen to 114,000.

Will the Minister at least acknowledge that the indifference or—let us be charitable—inability to provide funding since 2010 has contributed significantly, if not directly, to the decline in ESOL participation? I know that she will say that funding has increased in recent years, and it is true that there have been small increases in ESOL funding and in specific areas, which we welcome. The Syrian refugees settlement scheme has been talked about. Given that the Government knew, and now have proof, that additional funding is needed to provide ESOL to specific vulnerable groups, it is a matter of concern that they have not gone further. Will they move beyond that piecemeal approach and offer long-term, sustainable investment to deliver ESOL in all our communities? The fact is that the lack of investment makes it impossible for those who need these vital services to access them.

As shadow skills Minister, I have been talking a lot recently about our urgent need to empower two groups of people: young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in education, employment or training; and adults who are without basic literacy and numeracy, of whom there are probably between 5 million and 7 million. We cannot separate that from ministerial failure to fund ESOL properly—and not just in further education, but in the Home Office and with others who have shared responsibilities in this area. I appreciate that it is complex—I know what the silos are like in Government—but the Government have to deliver on the matter.

I hope that the Minister can tell us how many refugees and asylum seekers are not currently, and have not previously, enrolled in an ESOL course. I and many hon. Members of the House are concerned that they are not getting the support they need. Some 59% of respondents to a Refugee Action survey said that the number of hours of teaching they received were not sufficient, and 66% said that their current level of English did not make them feel ready to work in the UK. That is simply unacceptable. Can the Minister tell us what steps the Government are taking to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers get the support they need to learn English?

It seems to me that Ministers support that goal, because their own integrated communities Green Paper said that everyone should be able to learn English. I agree, but when will it become a reality? If we will the ends, we must will the means—to be more old-fashioned and colloquial about it, there is the old phrase: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” Well, no money has been saddled up to power the fine words and exaltation of the Green Paper, and the Government cannot say that they have not been given chapter and verse on what needs to be done.

I pay tribute to Paul Hook and all his colleagues at Refugee Action, which is a national charity that works to enable asylum seekers and refugees to rebuild their lives in the UK. It is the

“leading provider of reception and integration services”,

and in the past three years it has been indefatigable in reminding the Government and Members of the House where we need to go. I am quoting from Refugee Action’s July 2018 reaction to the Green Paper, which lists the problems for refugees. They include long waiting lists, difficulties enrolling in a class, inadequate learning hours, gender barriers, unsuitable classes and travel difficulties, many of which have been touched on in the debate. That is what Refugee Action said last year.

As we have already heard, Refugee Action has now produced a response to the integrated communities Green Paper. I have looked at it, and I am sure that other hon. Members will have looked at it, either the whole thing or a summary. It is an excellent summary of where we are, but unfortunately what it summarises is not good. Refugee Action makes the point that there has been a real-terms cut of almost 60% between 2008 and 2018. I have already mentioned the new research: 59% of refugees do not think that they have had enough ESOL teaching hours. To probe further into that, more than three quarters of parents said that a lack of childcare had been a barrier to their ability to attend English lessons. That bears out in anecdotal and other comments that colleagues have made.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

Does my hon. Friend agree that we have an enormous problem that results from that? There is isolation and there are resulting mental health problems, which add further costs to the national health service as a result of failing to provide these important preventive services.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

I agree. I do not wish to take us into another area, but although the significant cuts to the Sure Start programmes and children’s centres impact on native English speakers, they also have an effect on refugees and asylum seekers, particularly in areas where there is ethnic concentration and a large number of migrants.

Refugee Action’s recommendations have already been touched on. They include a fund to support all refugees to learn English; ensuring a minimum of eight hours a week teaching for refugees, which requires an investment of £42 million a year; an ESOL strategy for England; full and equal access to ESOL for female asylum seekers, with the right to access free English-language learning; and facilitating a national framework for community-based support.

This is an issue that I have taken up with the National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults, Refugee Action and others over the past couple of years. I went back to an article I wrote in FE Week in March 2018, to see whether anything I said then was not up to date. Unfortunately, I do not think much has changed at all. NATECLA said that the

“focus on informal community learning…does not go far enough to address the needs of learners…it is sustained and accredited English language learning”,

which rather supports the point that the hon. Member for Henley made on the need to have progression in those sorts of courses.

Following Brexit, when we will increasingly have to rely on a smaller pool of workers than we have done for decades, it will become absolutely clear that a skill system that is fit for the future must include a minimum competence in the English language for everyone living in the UK—and not just in London, but in other major cities. We should not neglect the challenges in smaller towns and rural areas where there are recent influxes or long-standing ethnic communities. However, ESOL funding has been whittled away, which has inevitably depleted the cohort of dedicated teachers. It is no good the Education Secretary waxing lyrical on ESOL and social mobility if the Department does not provide—either from its own resources, by lobbying the Treasury, or by combining with other Departments—the hard cash to go with it.

The shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Angela Rayner, met a group of Congolese and Sudanese refugees in her constituency earlier this year. She says:

“They told me about their experiences of seeking shelter and safety in my area and of the welcome they had received in my constituency. But they also told me that they were desperate for more opportunities to learn English”.

She wrote in an article:

“From my own experience, I know that the opportunity to learn alongside managing childcare responsibilities is crucial.”

Without the opportunity to do that, they will not be able to succeed.

This is not an issue that only well-meaning people in prosperous areas are concerned about. I have received quite a lot of letters on the matter from my constituents in Blackpool. I will quote from a letter that I received from Raven Ellis:

“Without the opportunity to learn English… Being denied this opportunity means refugees can’t integrate properly or find work. Even the smallest everyday things are hard—catching a bus, going to the doctor, or making friends with neighbours.”

To invest makes sound economic sense. The Government’s integrated communities Green Paper had some welcome proposals, but that justifies the need to move further in this area and not to continue to do nothing. Many things can be done informally. Conversation clubs and volunteers are great, but they cannot replace formal teaching. A recent survey by British Future, which talked to a large number of refugees and asylum seekers, bears out that point.

We know from history, and I know personally and practically from the history of the north-west in towns such as Preston, Barnsley, Oldham and Rochdale, as well as Blackpool—we do not have such a proportion of people needing ESOL in Blackpool—how key it is that communities, whether new or permanent, can assimilate instead of just co-existing separately. We also see that in other parts of the country, such as Yorkshire and Humber—my hon. Friend Alex Sobel is not in his place, but my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley is—and ESOL is key to that. It is key to social cohesion and individual advancement. It is key to enhancing local productivity and the local economy, especially where the number of people who need ESOL is high. It is also key to those people who are newly assimilated to learn to train and gain skills at whatever age. With that bundle of imperatives, I really hope that the Government, in whatever form or shape they take in the next six months, will put some effort into this area.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education) 3:41 pm, 3rd July 2019

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate Preet Kaur Gill. We all know—there has been agreement in the debate—that English language skills are crucial. Last week I had the privilege of meeting adult education providers in Birmingham, who spoke passionately about helping students to succeed. I also had a chance to chat to some of the students not just about progress they had made to date but about the progress they hoped to make in the future and what that meant for them.

We estimate that 1 million people—quite a big figure—living in England cannot speak English well or at all, and we know how important English language skills are. The Government make funding available for English language through the adult education budget, and via the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for community-based provision. There is also specific support for refugees via the Home Office. We are keen to ensure that funding offers the best value for money for those learning and those contributing through taxes.

When I looked at the funding streams available for English language, I saw that the Department for Education, MHCLG, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions all put funding into this area. Gordon Marsden talked about silos, which are a problem because they are not always the most efficient way of delivering the services we want.

Last year, providers supported adults to access English courses with £105 million of investment from the adult education budget. We are developing a new strategy, as hon. Members will be aware, which we plan to publish in the autumn. I share Members’ frustration about Ministers always saying “in the autumn” or “in the spring” or “in the summer” because we are never quite sure when that is. However, we are keen to get the strategy out as soon as possible. I do not mean to be evasive, but it will need to be right before we publish it. It will set out shared aims across Government to ensure that the ESOL provision is effective. We will need to use evidence-based decisions about what we do, and we have undertaken research to ensure that we get it right, which has included speaking to teachers, colleges, adult community learning providers, charities and academics to understand more. Last week, we published a report that explores what barriers those who have not accessed English language support have faced, some of which have been highlighted in the debate.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston articulated extremely well the reasons why being able to speak, understand and communicate in English are critical to building cohesive communities. It has become a bit of political rhetoric to talk about cohesive communities, but we know what that means. It has to mean more than co-existing, which the hon. Member for Blackpool South mentioned.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston also pointed out that specific first-hand experiences are important in highlighting some of the more general problems with accessing ESOL. She raised several points about the devolution of the adult education budget, which is important. I saw some of that in the west midlands. I met staff and some of the Mayors of the combined authorities a couple of weeks ago, and it will be interesting and useful to us all to note what they do in their local areas, because we can all learn from best practice and experience of delivery in different areas.

The hon. Lady asked four questions, which I think I will have answered before the end of my remarks. On her last question, I can only give my wholehearted support to the fact that we must be an inclusive and welcoming country, particularly for refugees, who have often been through a lot and also have much to contribute to the rich fabric of our society.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

The Minister mentioned the notion of devolution, which is a personal favourite of mine. However, devolving only really works if the money is not top-sliced first. Will she please give assurances that any further devolution will not lead to cuts on the way down?

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

Of course, around all this is the budget that we have available, and I know that the adult education budget has gone down in its totality. We have a spending review coming up. I am also a fan of devolution. It can make Governments slightly nervous as they hand over authority for something for which ultimately they will be held responsible, which can feel uncomfortable. But in an area such as this, devolution is the way to get solutions that work, because people know and understand their local communities, their population and the barriers in their area. Top-slicing is always a little trick of the Treasury; our job in the Department for Education is to ensure that nobody top-slices anything. We do not want top-slicing. However, as I said, there are a lot of complex funding streams, although not specifically for refugees.

I think it was Holly Lynch who asked whether I would give my word that money for ESOL will be replaced pound for pound. I cannot give any assurances, because the spending review is coming up.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

I am really sorry to interrupt the Minister, to whom I am listening carefully. I do not mean this in any way sardonically—the mood music coming from her is great—but my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield made a point about losing ERDF and ESL funding, and we do have a real concern about this area and others. Can the Minister give us any details on when we will see some nuts and bolts about the shared prosperity fund?

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

I will refer to that later, but to answer directly now, there is a lot of work going on about the shared prosperity fund. In the Department for Education, we are very aware of the benefits delivered through the European social fund. Moral imperatives were mentioned, and that money plays a crucial part in giving people an opportunity to take a step on various paths in their lives, as will the shared prosperity fund that replaces it. I cannot give details—not because I do not want to, but because I do not know.

Chi Onwurah, who is not in her seat, mentioned a German example. We always have much to learn from other countries, although we can rarely transfer ideas straight across because they will not necessarily work.

Catherine West evocatively referred to the prison that people inhabit when they cannot speak English. I have never been in that position, but it must feel like that if people cannot speak or understand any English.

My hon. Friend John Howell referenced the all-party parliamentary group’s work and highlighted issues such as loneliness and isolation, which have been well articulated. He also referenced the Council of Europe’s work. Europe gets many mentions in this place and elsewhere at the moment, but we rarely hear about the Council of Europe’s work, so that was good because it does a lot of good work.

Several hon. Members mentioned the particular problems that women face, including cultural and more complex problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley also mentioned community provision. I saw an extremely good example of community ESOL where the local authority was working with primary schools to encourage women to come in to help their children with some of their SATs tests and end-of-year tests. That is a good vehicle for improving their English while helping them to help their children with the tests that they will sit in school. For women who do not find it easy to get to adult community provision, for a variety of reasons, it is a good way to bypass the barriers that they might face in their own homes.

The ESOL strategy emerged as part of the integrated communities strategy action plan. The strategy has involved officials across Departments, so we have a shared vision, including addressing the needs of refugees. As we set out in the integrated communities strategy, we want to create clearer and easier pathways, improve outcomes and get better value for the money that we spend.

We always come back to funding at the end of the day—funding matters. The hon. Member for Blackpool South and I have frequently discussed the financial pressures that FE is under, which we will look at in the spending review. Warm words from me do not necessarily bring more money—they are needed, but they do not guarantee it. I am sure that all hon. Members who are keen for things to be funded will lobby. Debates such as this add to the pressure on the Treasury. We rarely make a good case for education in a broader sense. For people who do not speak English, ESOL is the first step down a path that includes further education. It also enables refugees who have prior education—we have talked about refugees who are doctors—to come to life and feel that they are a useful member of the society and community that they have joined. We can also realise the benefits of that.

The 2011 census revealed that 59%—nearly 60%—of over-16-year-olds who could not speak English or could not speak it well were not in employment. According to the 2014 British social attitudes survey, 95% of people, which is higher than other figures that have been quoted, think that to be considered truly British, people must be able to speak English. About a third of those who completed entry level or level 1 ESOL courses in 2015-16 went on to sustained employment. Some 60% of completions in 2015-16 led to a sustained positive destination the following year in employment or learning, so we know it works.

Through the adult education budget, ESOL is fully funded for those who are unemployed, and all learners are co-funded at 50% of the course rate. For the academic year 2018-19, however, we are supporting those in work on low incomes to access the AEB through a pilot that allows providers to fully fund those on low wages. That is important and will directly help low-paid, low-skilled people who are motivated to move out of unemployment to progress further. We are continuing the pilot in the 2019-20 academic year for learners resident in non-devolved areas, and we will evaluate the 2018-19 outcomes to help to inform our decision on whether to fully implement the trial beyond 2019-20.

As many hon. Members have said, learning English is crucial for integration. In the year ending September 2018, the UK offered protection to 15,170 people. We have committed to settle 20,000 vulnerable refugees who have fled Syria by 2020. As of the end of March 2019, 15,977 refugees have found safety in the UK to rebuild their lives through the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. Refugees have immediate access to English language tuition. The Home Office and the Department have provided an additional £10 million so that refugees settled through the scheme can access language tuition.

We recently launched new teaching resources to support teachers working with refugees and others adults with the lowest levels of English language and low literacy, in recognition of the fact that they face the greatest barriers to learning. I hope that the English language strategy that we are developing will provide a shared vision for all publicly funded ESOL and will specifically address the needs of refugees. I note that, for those who come to the UK under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, additional funds are made available for childcare, which can be a huge barrier, and not just financially, for mothers and carers to learn English.

I could go on about devolution, which, as I said, is important. We will use the learning from that. I thank all hon. Members who contributed to the debate. Last year, the Department alone spent £105 million on ESOL courses and qualifications. We need to improve the quality and effectiveness of what is delivered by commissioning new teaching resources for pre-entry level learners and by funding local authorities to trial the co-ordination of provision in their area.

The key is to put in place a co-ordinated system where we do not waste resources and where scarce resources get to the frontline. We need effective teaching and high-quality teachers—the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green raised the issue of pay. We need to remove and overcome some of the cultural barriers. I also note the need to make sure that the system is fully integrated, so that people can learn English, access good employment and have continued training opportunities, and so that we realise the vision that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston set out, where communities do not just co-exist but are fully integrated.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development) 3:58 pm, 3rd July 2019

I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. We have heard some excellent testimonies from hon. Members and their areas. I thank my hon. Friend Holly Lynch for her work on the all-party parliamentary group on social integration. Some of the work that it has produced is in line with that of Refugee Action.

I thank my hon. Friend Gordon Marsden, who mentioned Paul Hook and his work as head of campaigns for Refugee Action. I also put on record my thanks to Refugee Action and Paul Hook, and the many organisations that work not just on access to ESOL for refugees, but on the “Lift the Ban” campaign, which has been mentioned. I am grateful to the Minister for meeting adult education providers in Birmingham and the students who attended there.

Although we welcome the strategy, we have not heard much detail, which is disappointing. The case has been made today for investing in refugees, which means more funding, because post-16 funding has not been protected—

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).