From education to employment

AoC: Language course cuts might pose a threat to Cameron’s ‘Big Society’

According to a survey conducted by Association of Colleges, the proposed changes to the funding of English courses for speakers of other languages (ESOL) could hit Government plans for citizenship, volunteering and the jobs market.

The report reveals from September the Government will only pay the full course costs for those receiving ‘active’ benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) or employment support allowance (ESA).

Those on ‘inactive’ benefits, including income support, working families’ tax credit and housing support, will have to pay the fee element of the course, i.e. almost half of the total course cost.

The survey shows the changes will mean some 99,000 students, three quarters of whom are women receiving ‘inactive’ benefits would be hardest hit.

Joy Mercer, AoC’s director of education policy, said: “These courses have proved to be a lifeline for many people, including those on low incomes and their spouses, asylum seekers and refugees.

“This would have a considerable negative impact on the ability of new citizens, or those applying for citizenship, to progress to employment or become involved in the ‘big society’ through volunteering.”

The report outlines that there are currently 187,000 adults enrolled on ESOL courses to improve their English in order to find better jobs and increase their income, help their children with schoolwork and become fully integrated into the community.

According to the survey 74 per cent students receiving ‘inactive’ benefits are women, 55 per cent of students have literacy and numeracy basic skills needs and 7 per cent students are seeking asylum.

The findings also reveal that 75 per cent of colleges believe that they would have to reduce the amount of ESOL provision available if there were no concessions for people on ‘inactive’ benefits.

Colleges have expressed their concerns that many students will be unable to afford these fees, which will range from £400 to £1200 depending on the duration of the course.

“It is hard to reconcile the likely impact of this policy with the Government’s stated support for social mobility and a fair society, the Government is unaware of the unintended consequences, of these proposals,” said Ms Mercer.

“We want the Government to take another look at this policy and would urge them to delay implementation until a more detailed analysis of the likely impact, including students’ ability to pay, is undertaken and other changes to the benefits system have been fully modelled and understood.”

Aastha Gill

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