Ethnic minority women hit hardest by Esol cuts

22nd July 2011 at 01:00
Minister admits `anxiety' as union brands plans `a huge body blow for community cohesion'

FE minister John Hayes has admitted that women from ethnic minorities will be "disproportionately" affected by Esol (English for speakers of other languages) cuts.

Mr Hayes told FE Focus he was "anxious" about the "unintended consequences" of the policy, which could have a "consequent negative effect on community cohesion".

He said extra funding would be made available to tackle the problem, and has spoken to local government minister Eric Pickles about taking cross- departmental action.

"British Asians, and British Asian women, will be disproportionately affected by the changes," Mr Hayes said.

He insisted the results of the delayed Esol impact assessment published this week supported the rationale behind the changes, which will see Esol funding focused on those not in work.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the assessment "confirms our worst fears", adding: "These plans are a huge body blow for community cohesion, and fly in the face of David Cameron's call for more immigrants to learn English."

Shadow FE minister Gordon Marsden said: "(The impact assessment) underlines that our fears - that vulnerable people, especially women in communities, would be hit hard by these restrictions - were justified and that action needs to be taken."

A raft of complex changes introduced in the Government's FE strategy, published last year, included the removal of programme weighting (extra money to reflect the difficulty of teaching some of the most needy students); removing full fee remission for learners on inactive benefits such as housing benefit and income support; and forcing employers to pay for Esol training in the workplace.

The latter change was intended to focus public funds on settled jobseekers whose lack of English is a barrier to employment.

Of the women taking Esol courses in 200910, the impact assessment revealed that 32.6 per cent were white but non-British, and 14.3 per cent were Chinese.

Mr Hayes said: "I am confident a significant proportion are migrant workers. Business should actively fund the cost of their learning."

The minister said he had "listened carefully" to concerns about the impact of the cuts, and had asked the Association of Colleges to report back to him on "how we can make sure that extra resources will be targeted to the most vulnerable people" and avoid "short changing learners".

The impact assessment said that a "significant proportion" of evidence warned women could be left "isolated in their community" without being able to speak English.

A letter sent to chancellor George Osborne last week signed by the Women's Leadership Network and the Network for Black Professionals expressed the organisations' concerns about cuts to Esol provision.

Original headline: Ethnic minority women will be hit hardest by Esol cuts

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