Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, said the poor standard of English among many women in her constituency was a “huge barrier to integration”. Ten per cent of residents in Bradford West can’t speak English at all or “not well”, according to the 2011 census. In one inner city ward, Manningham, that figure is 22%.
Shah, whose own mother came over from Pakistan and could speak only broken English, said she welcomed David Cameron’s proposal.
Too many children in Bradford and elsewhere are starting school with no English because it is not spoken at home, and that has a knock-on effect for their education. Early years education starts in the home.
She said some in the Pakistani community seemed to be going backwards.
When my parents came over, my mum had to learn the basics in order to get by. Now, with the third and fourth generations, it’s perfectly possible to live a life where you never have to speak English because everyone in the shops and services where you live speak your language … Have we actually undone some of the good work that has been done in terms of integration?
Men were sometimes to blame for women not learning English, she said:
Let’s be clear, we do have patriarchal pockets in our communities which won’t and don’t support women going out and being confident and partaking in civil society because they want that patriarchal structure to continue.
But Shah pointed out that at the same time as urging immigrants to learn English, Cameron had also cut funding for Esol teaching (English for Speakers of Other Languages).
In July, the Skills Funding Agency announced all funding for “Esol plus mandation” would be cut as part of the £450m in savings that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has been asked to find by the Treasury. These were introduced to require jobseeker’s allowance claimants with poor spoken English to improve their language skills in order to continue receiving benefits.
Some 47 colleges and about 16,000 learners are affected by the cuts, according to the Association of Colleges (AoC). “You can’t on the one hand talk about instilling British values in immigrants at the same time as cutting funding to help them learn English so they can learn our values,” said Shah.