If there’s one thing we all learned as children in the middle decades of the 20th century, it was our language. From Land’s End to John O’Groats we absorbed the set of communications rules that bind the nation together.
Our changing society and new arrivals have rather broken that chain. In London, Communities Minister Sajid Javid has revealed that 770,000 people living in England speak no English or hardly any, in an interview in which he described his own experience as a “six-year-old interpreter” for his Pakistani mother.
The Government has decided to act and today is launching a new £50m fund to support integration and bring together what he calls Britain’s “divided” communities.
The money will go towards English language classes, special programmes to help women into the workforce and plans to promote ‘British values’ in schools.
Mr Javid promised to expand the teaching of English to immigrants as he warned that up to 70% of those unable to speak the language were women, and most of them were from Pakistani or Bangladeshi communities. Speaking ahead of the publication of a government green paper that pledges to boost integration in Britain, he said that his mother’s decision to learn English 15 years after arriving in the country “transformed her life”.
He said it enabled her to work for the family clothing business, build a new network of friends, and – years later – meant she could speak freely with his wife, Laura, and her grandchildren.
He said the new strategy was a response to the failure of successive governments to tackle the UK’s integration challenges, refusing to deal with the integration challenges we face head on, preferring to let people muddle along and live isolated and separated lives.
The proposals follow a review led by Dame Louise Casey that concluded that many communities in Britain remain divided on religious, racial and socio-economic lines.
Under the plans, recent arrivals to the UK will get an information pack to “help them navigate British life, values and culture”.
“Britain can rightly claim to be one of the most successful diverse societies in the world,” he said.
“But we cannot ignore the fact that in too many parts of our country, communities are divided, preventing people from taking full advantage of the opportunities that living in modern Britain offers.
“We will put an end to this through our new strategy which will create a country that works for everyone, whatever their background and wherever they come from. Integration challenges are not uniform throughout the country, with different areas and communities having varying needs.”
The Government plans to trial the plans in five ‘Integration Pilot Areas’ across the country – Blackburn, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall and the London borough of Waltham Forest.
What does this mean for you? It clearly shows the need for people with the time, the patience and the language skills to step up to the plate.
Conversation, normal and everyday, is by far the quickest, the simplest and most effective way to pick up a second language. So, if you’re prepared to take a chance, the opportunity is there.
Worth checking the lists at your local council for full or part time jobs; or you could consider volunteering with one of the many educational charities.
London-based charity Refugee Action provide volunteering opportunities nationally
We’re scouting our recruitment and charity contacts to find more like this, so do keep in touch, we’ll be adding to this page.
For more about the Government’s English language initiative: