The long awaited government’s integration strategy is broad and ambitious in many ways, and most notably it successfully recognises that true integration relies on the involvement of all parties – integration is a two way street. The burden should not be placed on minority communities, social divisions exist across many intersections, class, age, gender, race, religion – it is therefore paramount that a strategy designed to address integration is effective in addressing all these social divisions. This green paper potentially provides a unique opportunity to successful address integration across the UK.
The green paper identifies and proposes a number of priority policy areas to help drive integration in the UK. Of particular significance, to the JAN Trust, was the emphasis placed on the importance of learning English, a fundamental part of successful integration. Learning English unlocks the potential for individuals to overcome other potential barriers when it comes to assimilating into British society. A common language creates a shared sense of identity and values, helping to nurture a cohesive society, through a collective sense of belonging. A lack of meaningful access to essential ESOL services leads huge disadvantage for many communities. In an attempt to alleviate such disadvantages, the government has proposed a new strategy for ESOL programmes.
The new focus will be on piloting and establishing unique localised English language initiatives to empower these communities. It is of the utmost importance that it is recognised that there is a significant will amongst those who lack language skills to learn, this was highlighted by Chuka Umunna in his speech to parliament on release of this strategy. Without such recognition there is a risk that we ostracise the very individuals that the policy aims to empower.
Despite this new commitment from the government in the integration strategy to improve ESOL provision, it must be noted that since 2010 there has been a 60% cut in real terms of funding for ESOL provision, causing many learners to lose out on the opportunity to learn English. A major concern with the green paper is that as yet there exists no clear detail about how policies will be funded.
In the same week as the as the government published the integration green paper, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, released an Social Integration Strategy. That also has a strong focus on the improvement to the suitability and availability of ESOL. Khan has stated that prior to the devolution of the Adult Education Budget in 2019/20 there will be a number of piloted ESOL initiatives to inform future provision.
It is a fundamental right for women who live in the UK to learn English, and more significantly it’s vital to recognise to as a society we all gain from women’s access to ESOL provision. We now this at JAN Trust, as we have years of experience in this area and cannot emphasise enough how important it is for local BAMER and Muslim women to have an easily accessible centre for learning. The importance of localised grassroots initiatives such as ours in tackling social isolation for marginalised women is absolutely essential and since 1989 we have proven that this model works. We have pioneered this as our core-work for nearly 30 years, closely working with BAMER and Muslim women and providing ESOL and skills based classes. These classes are vital to build independence, a sense of self-determination and to enable integration into modern day British society.
Therefore if the government is serious about creating a cohesive society, there needs to be a significant move by the government to begin funding currently chronically underfunded ESOL provision. English is the cornerstone of integration. Thus to see the true advantages of such policies emerge it will be necessary for all initiatives to be rolled out nationally in the coming years; successful integration across the board mandates a national strategy.
English provides a true stepping stone for integration, opening opportunities beyond language. At JAN Trust we use our English classes as a platform to allow the women we work with to fully integrate and become independent and active citizens. Meaning our beneficiaries are able to move on to further education and employment, becoming ambassadors within their communities, as well as creating safer and stronger communities. At JAN Trust we empower women using a holistic approach that tackles a range of issue that can lead to isolation and deprivation.
To find out more about our work please visit our website.