From education to employment

Making migration work

Imagine being worried about how your children are doing at school, but not having the language skills to talk confidently to their teachers. Or understanding what your doctor is telling you. And having skills, but not being able to get work because of your weak English.

For far too many people in this country, this is a sad reality. We have 850,000 of our fellow citizens without the English language skills they need to participate fully in life and work. Our latest Policy Solution addresses this and proposes policies which will make migration work better for the UK.

I agree with the political parties that immigration is one of the most important issues facing our country. However, the debate should not simply focus on immigration caps and targets, because we need migration if we are to have a strong economy, and we need to make it work if we are to have a good society.

I want to step away from the politics, hype, scapegoating and mythology that surround this issue. Let’s get the facts out into the open. Facts like these: immigrants who have arrived in Britain since 2000 are less than half as likely as the UK-born population to receive state benefits or tax credits; EU migrants alone contribute net £20bn to the UK’s GDP; and less than 5% of migrants are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.

But we have some big challenges. In 2006/07 around 500,000 people were in ESOL classes. With funding cut from £230m per year in 2008 to £130m in 2013, those numbers have dropped to around 140,000 learners and with public funding tightening even further, it is likely that these numbers will drop even further. We also know that there are some communities where the concentration of migrants is putting pressures on infrastructure and public services and we know that high-skilled immigration is being hampered by policy.

Our Policy Solution, Making Migration Work ( sets out bold proposals for employment, skills and learning policies. It is bold because NIACE believes that too many people in this country are struggling to participate fully in work and in life. That simply cannot be allowed to continue.

And it’s not just the cost to individuals. Our economy relies on skilled, talented and productive people entering and progressing throughout the labour market. But right now there are huge skills shortages and skills gaps that are threatening our future economic prosperity. On top of that we face a difficult decade ahead. Over the next 10 years there will be 13.5 million job vacancies and yet only 7 million young people entering the labour market. Who will fill that 6.5 million gap? Yes, in part, it will be older people retiring later. But the side of immigration that we rarely hear about is how many businesses need skilled migrants to help them grow and succeed.

So this is what we propose:

  • changes to the benefit system to require everyone in a household in receipt of benefits with an English language-need to learn English – a new responsibility;
  • significant expansion in the number of English classes by refocusing current public investment on entry levels and introducing loans for learning beyond this – a new set of opportunities;
  • greater power for local areas to promote integration and support local opportunity; and
  • changes to the immigration cap so more highly skilled people can stay and work in the UK.

I believe that these policy proposals will enhance the benefits of migration. They will help support people on a journey to more fulfilling careers and lives for them and their families. We know this because during every Adult Learners’ Week we hear stories about people who have their talents released and their prospects transformed. We meet many people who have started with entry-level ESOL, then go on to college, university and hugely rewarding jobs. More than often they also reinvest their energies back into their communities and workplaces as well as with their families by supporting and inspiring others.

This leads to not only stronger economies but a more tolerant, inclusive and integrated society.

David Hughes is chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE)

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