Well, David Cameron, on that last part we agree with you — women living in the UK, especially, asylum seekers and refugees, should be able to learn English. And in our experience as a charity working with The Baytree Centre, an English teaching centre for vulnerable women in Lambeth, they want to learn — after all, women who can’t speak English in the UK often struggle to access basic services, let alone get jobs. But the truth is that classes are too often out of reach for them.
Firstly, this is because of reduced government funding. Many have pointed out the hypocrisy of your statement in light of recent cuts to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses. They’re not wrong — over the last five years, nearly 40% of the government budget for these courses has been cut, resulting in long waiting lists and strains on services provided at colleges and adult education centres. Even where government-funded lessons exist, barriers prevent the most vulnerable women from accessing learning that could increase their independence.
These are greatest for refugees. When they are seeking asylum, they cannot attend classes, receiving government support only if no decision has been made on their claim for longer than six months. Even after this limbo, asylum seekers can only access ‘co‐funding’, meaning they will still be responsible for 50% of the costs. For many, this is an impossible situation — without the language skills to get good quality employment or function within society, and without the right to work, how will they be able to pay for lessons?