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News: British public want refugees to learn english, but cuts are creating barriers

By May 25, 2016October 11th, 2016Press release

Nearly three quarters of UK people think refugees learning English is beneficial to Britain, but 55 per cent cuts to funding for English language classes since 2008/09 mean that refugees are struggling to access the classes they need to help rebuild their lives.

Those are the findings of a new report and poll by national charity Refugee Action, calling on the government to ensure a proper English language strategy for England is put in place, and invest the funds needed to ensure that refugees are given quick access to English classes.

Refugee Action’s report Let Refugees Learn clearly highlights the desire and determination among refugees to learn English. It shows that without exception, refugees want to learn English because they want to live independently and self-sufficiently.

All of those interviewed see learning the language as a vital first step in rebuilding their lives; enabling them to do every-day tasks like paying bills and talking to their doctor as well as helping them to access the job market and contribute to their local communities. And the British public agree, saying that among the most important benefits refugees will be better able to integrate, work, make a living and pay taxes.

In theory, refugees in England are eligible for fully-funded ESOL classes (English for Speakers of Other Languages). However the report clearly demonstrates that year on year government cuts are causing unnecessary barriers to accessing quality English lessons for refugees in England; including shortages in provision, long waiting lists and being assigned to the wrong class because of a lack of available places.

According to the research, women are particularly affected because of a lack of child care facilities or because they are often not the principle job seeker at the Job Centre.

Ban, from Iraq, arrived in the UK in January 2014 and struggled to find a course, waiting nine months to enrol at her local college. She says: “I felt lost. I’m trying to understand everything and pick up the language but I can’t at first. I felt deserted, because if you can’t speak the language properly, the people keep saying: ‘What? Sorry? I don’t understand’, and you feel really shy because you know nobody understands you.”

Now, after studying at her local college, Ban is able to plan for her future. “I feel brilliant, I mean I came here to be something and I will. I want to do an interpreter course and I’ll have to work hard for it and then I can say: ‘Well, Ban, now you’ve done what you want to, what you dream,’ and it’s my dream to see my daughters have a good college, a good university and a good job,” says Ban.

Refugee Action is calling on the government to act on five essential recommendations:

  1. Create a fund that would give refugees that require English lessons free, accessible English classes for their first two years in England. Our analysis shows this would cost around £1600 per refugee per year and would be effectively reimbursed through taxes within the first 8 months of employment on the national average wage. This would require the Government to invest £47m a year to achieve this goal.
  2. Publish an ESOL strategy for England. This should set national targets for ESOL provision and attainment; and enshrine refugees’ timely access to ESOL as an entitlement
  3. Ensure full and equal access to ESOL, particularly for women. Female refugees’ ability to attend English language classes can be improved ensuring they have access to childcare facilities that will make this possible
  4. Provide asylum seekers with the right to access free English language classes
  5. Facilitate a national framework for community based language support

Stephen Hale, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, says: “Refugees see English as absolutely essential to settling in Britain, becoming part of their new communities and finding work. Our government must let refugees learn. This will not only benefit them, it will benefit Britain.”

For more information on this campaign and to read the report, please visit:

>> Download the Executive Summary

>> Download the full report

>> Download the BritainThinks Polling results

Media enquires

For more information please contact Rosie Stewart,Refugee Action Media Manager, at or call 020 7952 1560. For out of hours enquires call 07703 609094.

About Refugee Action

Imagine what it’s like to flee your home in fear. To arrive in a new country with nothing but your life. You’ve survived. But how will you live?

Refugee Action helps people who’ve survived some of the world’s worst regimes to find the basic support they need to live with dignity. Then we make sure they have the opportunity to build a safe, happy and productive life.


Insight and strategy consultancy BritainThinks designed and ran the general public poll. For enquiries please contact Lucy Bush, Associate Director at BritainThinks on 0207 845 5880 or