We ask that all political parties agree to increase funding for ESOL (English) education in our community. The coming local elections in May are a great opportunity for all political parties to make this commitment and invest in our Battersea community.
Language is the key that unlocks an integrated, fulfilled life in the UK. Without it, people arriving to these shores are unable to work, to make friends, even to go to the doctor or get on a bus. Having reached safety, people want to build a new life here. For recent Afghan and Ukrainian refugees this will be crucial, let alone all the other nationalities that make up our wonderful community. Knowing how to speak English is absolutely essential for this; for a life where refugees can fully participate and fully contribute. As Action for ESOL state, “Access to the common language is a precondition of full and equal participation in society. Denying access to learning the common language is a fundamental barrier to participation. There is a well-established correlation between poor English language skills, low pay, unemployment, poor housing, poor health and poverty.”
770,000 people in England aged 16 and over say they cannot speak English well or at all; and women are disproportionately affected (Census, 2011; Aoki & Santiago, 2016). Unmet English language needs are a major barrier to employment, education, addressing health needs, accessing public services, hindering independence, confidence and social mobility. They can affect the ability of non-English speaking people to settle into local neighbourhoods and communities, creating divisions, fear and discrimination.
The 2011 Census measured Wandsworth’s population at 307,000, of which 108,573 (35.3%) were non-UK born. In London alone, research has identified over 300 Languages spoken by children at home or over a million people (Children England, 2013; Census, 2011). 40.8% of pupils in Wandsworth at Primary School and 37.8% of Secondary School pupils’ first language is known or believed to be other than English (Local Authority Area and Government Office Region in England PLASC, DCFS, 2007). Wandsworth ranked 24 in the top districts in England and Wales for percentage of population in the Language Needs Indicator, 2001. 39,265 adults in Wandsworth have language needs (17% of the adult working population in Wandsworth. Census, 2011). How are these being met? How are these holding people, our community and economy back?
Fundamentally, ESOL is concerned with enabling migrants to acquire the language and language-related skills they need in order to play a full role, to have a voice and live autonomous fulfilling lives, in community with others.
Language education is a public good which contributes to society as a whole. All political parties need to ensure that ESOL education is free and accessible to all those who need it; that childcare is provided; and classes delivered at different times during the day/evening taking into account people’s work and caring responsibilities.
To find out more about the importance of ESOL (English) education contact Aaron Barbour at [email protected]