A debate in the Lords gave us the chance to discuss how the Government could give a voice to the thousands of women in Britain who’ve fled violence, conflict and persecution. Refugees come to Britain seeking protection and safety, having escaped unimaginable horrors – but all too often, as a nation, we neglect to give sufficient attention to what happens to people after they’ve arrived, and fail to provide them with the basic tools to rebuild their lives here. Language, and being able to communicate with others, is perhaps the most fundamental of these tools; which is why I was appalled to read research from the charity Refugee Action which shows that refugees are having to wait for up to three years to start English classes, as a result of Government funding cuts of over 50% since 2010 to classes for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).
I’m also deeply concerned about the fact that it’s refugee women who are doubly disadvantaged – they face all of the same, numerous barriers to accessing English language classes as male refugees; but they also often face additional barriers as a result of having to juggle caring responsibilities for children and other relatives. The difficulty in being able to get a place on a course in the first place, coupled with the lack of support to allow women to take up those places which do exist – 77% of ESOL providers say they either have no facilities for childcare or that what they provide is not enough for the needs of most learners – mean that all too often women end up locked out of learning.
This is stopping women using and developing their skills and talents to the full, finding work, going to university or college, and carrying out all the basic tasks we all take for granted – like catching a bus or talking to our children’s teachers. It’s also a safeguarding issue, with women who are unable to speak English being less aware of their rights and less able to speak up and get help if they’re in danger. That’s why the Government need to urgently increase the support it makes available to to refugee women, so they can learn English and start to rebuild their lives in safety here in Britain.
Contact Refugee Action for further information