Entitlement to free language classes will remain

23rd March 2007 at 00:00

Bill Rammell, MP Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education It is not correct to say that the Government is axing free English language training for migrants and refugees ("Language cuts under attack", FE Focus, March 9). I told a Niace conference on English for Speakers of Other Languages last week that I would consider the following:

* Reinstating eligibility for asylum seekers who are in the UK legally and whose claims are not resolved within 6 months.

* Reinstating eligibility for asylum seekers unable to return to their country of origin for circumstances beyond their control and who are eligible for Section 4 support.

* Prioritising funding at local level through the Learning and Skills Council's Learner Hardship Support Fund towards support for spouses and individuals who may not have access to their household benefit documentation or their own funds.

I have asked the LSC to develop guidance which will look at evidence including receipt of income-related benefits to see if these learners are eligible for fee remission.

These measures will be subject to audit. The Esol changes announced last year were subject to a formal race equality impact assessment. We said we would respond to any concerns and this is what we are doing. Our proposals will ensure priority learners are still able to access courses instead of enduring waiting lists of up to two years.

The money this government spends on Esol has increased dramatically and will remain comparable next year. The Government still pays two-thirds of the cost for those not on free provision and the numbers of learners will depend on the targeting and marketing strategies of individual course providers.

Helping new arrivals integrate into British society has been a success story under this government. But faced with a tripled demand from migrants and asylum seekers we simply cannot go on expanding the budget. We must explore ways employers who benefit from migrant workers can contribute to costs. It is only right that those who can contribute more do so. Those on the lowest wages and in receipt of an income-related benefit will still qualify for free Esol.

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