Immigrants must learn English, says David Cameron – while cutting funding for lessons

The Prime Minister’s speech indicates that he cares less about integration than about reaching out t

Hot on the heels of his controversial address on multiculturalism in Munich in February, David Cameron is set to deliver another hard-hitting speech, this one specifically on immigration.

He will criticise the "largest influx" ever of immigrants in British history and emphasise the need for immigrants to speak English:

Real integration takes time. That's why, when there have been significant numbers of new people arriving in neighbourhoods perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there, on occasions not really wanting or even willing to integrate, that has created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods.

There is rather a cruel irony in this, given that the government will be drastically cutting funding for English as a Second Language (Esol) courses from September this year.

Under new rules, free places will be limited to students who are on jobseeker's allowance or employment support allowance – benefits paid to those actively seeking work.

At present, people who receive other benefits, such as housing benefit, income support or tax credits are also eligible for free lessons. From September, this will no longer be the case. State funding for Esol courses within the workplace will also end, leaving employers to pay.

The Institute of Race Relations noted in December:

There is concern that these changes are being introduced with no evidence of prior consultation, and without any assessment of their impact on people from migrant communities.

It is widely acknowledged that English language proficiency is crucial to participation in the labour market, for accessing services, and to functioning independently in everyday life. In consequence, the effects of cutting language provision will be widely felt. Early local impact assessments indicate cuts in core provision of up to 50 per cent.

Newspaper reports of Cameron's speech have focused on a widening gulf in the language used by the two coalition parties on this subject (a senior Lib Dem has described the tone of the speech as "appalling"). However, this basic contradiction indicates that Cameron cares less about encouraging integration than reaching out to the core Conservative vote with hardline rhetoric ahead of the local elections.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.