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Minister for Further and Higher Education Bill Rammell today published the Race Equality Impact Assessment (REIA) on the changes to the eligibility for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses and changes to the eligibility to FE funding for asylum seekers. He also announced a range of new measures to address the concerns raised around the changes to ESOL, including £4.6m in 2007-08 to support vulnerable learners through the Learner Support Hardship Fund.

The new measures stay true to the original principle behind the changes which is to ensure the funding available for ESOL provision is prioritised towards those learners most in need of English language skills. The REIA is designed to ensure that equal opportunities are embedded in policy and is a part of the process of good policymaking.

In October 2006 the Minister, together with the LSC, announced a series of proposals to address the unsustainable growth in ESOL provision and ensure that those learners most in need are able to access English language provision. The Race Equality Impact Assessment is a legal process designed to embed equal opportunities in policy and is required where a policy is considered to have a bearing on race relations. The REIA process raised a number of issues, including:

- Possible negative impacts on spouses and women;

- The length of time taken to process asylum seeker applications;

- Possible negative impacts on low-paid workers;

- The difficulty learners might encounter in proving their eligibility for courses;

- Concern for the impact on young people.

In response, the Minister announced a range of new measures, including:

- Reinstating eligibility for further education for asylum seekers without a decision after 6 months;

- An additional £4.6m in 2007-08 Learner Support Hardship Funds to support vulnerable learners, including spouses and low-paid workers;

- Reinstating eligibility for asylum seekers unable to leave the country for reasons beyond their control;

- Asking the LSC to develop guidance to encourage providers to work locally with Government agencies and to support learners in evidencing entitlement to fee remission. In some cases, providers may seek evidence of learners financial circumstances (such as payslips, P60s and other tax forms) to assist learners to get the evidence needed of means-tested state support

- Assisting young asylum seekers aged 16-18 to access provision.

Bill Rammell said: It is clear that English language skills are vital for life, work and community cohesion. That is why we have offered free English language courses through our Skills for Life strategy. Since 2001, millions of learners have benefited from this and many have gained qualifications. The policy has been a real success. However, funding has tripled since 2001 and demand is rising at an unsustainable rate. In some areas this is creating long waiting lists and preventing learners who most need English language skills from accessing provision. This is why in October 2006 we announced that, from 2007/08, ESOL learning will no longer attract automatic fee remission. Free tuition will only be available to priority groups - primarily people who are unemployed or receiving income-based benefits. Evidence from the REIA consultation suggests that around half of learners can expect to be eligible for free ESOL with around half making a contribution to the costs.

Since the proposed changes were announced we have listened to the concerns of a wide range of people. We have also undertaken a Race Equality Impact Assessment. A number of important issues have been raised and I am pleased to be able to announce today a range of new measures designed to address those issues.

We will reinstate eligibility for further education for asylum seekers who have not received a decision on their application after 6 months. We will also reinstate eligibility for asylum seekers who are unable to leave the country for reasons beyond their control. Vulnerable learners, including spouses and low-paid workers, will be supported through a £4.6m boost to the Learner Support Hardship Fund in 2007-08.

In addition, I have asked the LSC to develop guidance to encourage providers to work locally with Government agencies and to support learners in evidencing entitlement to fee remission. In some cases, providers may seek evidence of learners financial circumstances (such as payslips, P60s and other tax forms) to assist learners to get the evidence needed of means-tested state support.

There was also concern around young asylum seekers aged 16-18 who may turn 19 and become ineligible whilst waiting to enrol on a course. The LSC will work to ensure that these 16 - 18 yr olds are a priority. Colleges and providers will work together to ensure that learners in this situation are signposted to alternative local provision in order to ensure they start a programme before they are 19.

Overall, I believe these new measures address the key concerns expressed over the past few months. Publication of the REIA shows that we have listened. The changes we are implementing will ensure that those priority groups of learners who are most in need are able to access English language courses. They also ensure that we are extracting maximum value for money from our ESOL budget.

As well as the policy developments that I have announced as a result of the REIA, I am pleased to announce that customers of Jobcentre Plus for whom basic skills needs are a barrier to employment will no longer have to wait six months to be eligible for LSC fully funded provision. This applies to individuals who are not eligible for New Deal, and includes Jobseekers Allowance Claimants over 25. The provision includes Literacy, Numeracy and ESOL.

Full details are contained in the REIA document, which will be available on the DfES Skills for Life website from Monday 26 March. LSC guidance for 2007-2008 outlining the new position on ESOL funding will be available on the LSC website from Monday 26 March.

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