Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The ability of migrants to speak English has long been a preoccupation of politicians, from Jewish workers arriving in London’s east end in the late 19th century to the diverse groups of people migrating to the UK today. In the past decade the blame for lack of ‘community cohesion’ (an often used but poorly defined phrase) has been placed firmly on non-English speakers. David Cameron is keen to ensure that’s where it stays, using a recent speech to argue that immigrants who don’t speak English cause ‘discomfort and disjointedness’ in their own neighbourhoods.
Commentators have pointed out the glaring contradictions in Cameron’s words and actions, for at the same time as stigmatising non-English speakers the government is attacking English language provision harder than ever. ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) is the publicly funded English language provision for migrants in the UK. It has seen a funding cut of 32 per cent over the past two years, and if the government’s proposed further cuts go ahead then 100,000 students will be hit with fees of up to £1,000 for ESOL classes – charges that most simply cannot afford.
Between 2001 and 2007, ESOL classes were available free of charge to many of the migrants who needed them. The changes to the funding arrangements mean only those receiving ‘active benefits’ (jobseeker’s allowance or employment and support allowance) will be eligible.
People on other benefits, such as working tax credit, housing benefit and income support, will have to pay fees. In addition, ESOL will no longer be funded in the workplace, penalising low paid people who won’t be receiving ‘active’ benefits.
The consequences of the changes are stark. Cuts to ESOL will be devastating for everyone, but those on low wages, women and asylum seekers will be particularly badly hit. Surveys consistently show that in some areas up to 75 per cent of students currently in a free ESOL class will have to pay fees. These students, predominantly female, will not be able to afford the fees and will be excluded from provision. For many women, taking away their free ESOL class will entail removing a source of autonomy and a key link to the wider community.
Tying eligibility for free ESOL to benefits for jobseekers will profoundly affect refugees who are seeking asylum. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, nor can they claim any benefits that would allow them access to a free class. Some ESOL providers are exploring inventive ways of ensuring asylum seekers can gain access to classes, for example by enrolling them on alternative ‘non-ESOL’ courses, such as those leading to functional skills or adult literacy qualifications. But it remains the case that removing entitlement to publicly-funded ESOL classes further marginalises those who are already on the extremes of exclusion.
The ESOL sector will suffer job losses as a consequence of the cuts. Redundancies have already been announced in many colleges. Responsibility for ESOL is likely to be shouldered more heavily by the private and voluntary sectors, where provision is fragmented, quality is patchy, and funding is ad hoc and difficult to sustain.
Despite the apparent contradictions in Cameron’s words and actions, the government’s cuts to ESOL align all too well with its anti-immigration ideology and are closely linked to its programme of ‘welfare reform’. In the same immigration speech where Cameron blamed poor English skills for disjointed neighbourhoods, he also claimed migrants are ‘filling gaps in the labour market left wide open by a welfare system that for years has paid British people not to work.’
In this way, Cameron links his government’s immigration and welfare policies by placing the blame for ‘too much immigration’ at the feet of another group of the ‘undeserving’: benefit ‘scroungers’.
Immigration restrictions aim to prevent people from the poorest countries with low skills (and those most likely to do the jobs that British workers ‘refuse’ to do) from coming to the UK; welfare reform is about the forced inclusion of locals into the job market. Restricting access to free ESOL can be seen as part of this move.
In other words, cutting ESOL is regarded as a means of dealing with a perceived migration pull‑factor. And requiring people to pay for their ESOL classes shifts responsibility for provision of public services from the state to the individual, a hallmark of neoliberal economic policy.
So, far from being contradictory, coalition cuts to ESOL show a disconcerting level of ‘joined-up thinking’. Bearing the brunt, as usual, are people whose voices are rarely heard – in English or any other language. n
To find out more about the campaign against ESOL cuts, go to www.actionforesol.org
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe