First the good news – David Cameron has announced a £20 million fund to support English language training for migrants. The idea is that it will help combat isolation and segregation by breaking down barriers separating disadvantaged communities from mainstream society.
Then the bad news – the funding is targeted at Muslim women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage. Men, apparently, don’t need this support. Nor do women from any other ethnic or religious backgrounds.
Cameron is right to say that migrants should be able to communicate effectively with their host communities. QED Foundation has been helping disadvantaged groups play an active part in British society for 25 years so we know the difference this can make. The ability to speak English fluently is one of the most important factors in improving the quality of life of ethnic minorities. As well as encouraging integration and community cohesion, it is essential if people are to find work, get to know their neighbours and communicate with their British-born children.
Muslim women are among those in greatest need of language coaching – but they are not the only ones.
Our charity has supported 30,000 people from ethnic minority backgrounds by providing education and training. So we have first-hand experience of the difference our classes have made to recent arrivals from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Nepal, China, Brazil, Russia, Hong Kong, the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe.
English language classes are important but much more needs to be done to help migrants become active members of their communities.
We have also pioneered measures enabling 1,000 women in Pakistan to gain English language and life skills before leaving to join their husbands in the UK – measures that have since been taken up elsewhere in the EU.
Nor should Pakistani and Bangladeshi women be singled out as needing special support because they are seen as a threat to their host communities. Many are segregated from wider society by labour market inequalities and real or perceived discrimination.
This is a great waste of human potential but Cameron is not justified in believing that it leads to an increased risk of radicalisation.
Many migrants are highly qualified and eager to find work or set up businesses. They also want to play an active part in civic life and support their families to the best of their abilities.
Men and women of all ethnic and religious backgrounds are eager to gain the life skills needed to adapt to their new environments.
And by helping them to do this, we also allow wider society to benefit from their talent and experience.
Dr Mohammed Ali OBE is founder and chief executive of QED Foundation (qed-uk.org), the Bradford-based national charity that helps improve the social and economic position of disadvantaged communities
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