Let’s start with the good news. The Prime Minister has announced today an extra £20million funding for ESOL. Terrific news.
Except, well, except everything.
Except that this comes off the back of years of cuts to ESOL funding, and a specific cut to ESOL last July of £45million, giving us, according to Martin Doel of the AoC, a total cut of £160 million since 2008. The money will also come with conditions attached, no doubt around project “sustainability”, i.e. doing more with nothing. As with DCLG “competition” a couple of years back, the money will be used to briefly prop up small voluntary organisations until the money runs out and they are abandoned.
Except that this money is targeted for Muslim women to learn English – about 228,000 people, if we borrow the government’s numbers (38,000 with “no English” and 190,000 with “limited English”. So, if I get my calculator, that means there is about £88 a head for these women, and based on a very conservative estimate, that would be enough for between 10-20 hours of lessons. Which is nothing at all, not really, with even the most highly motivated learners.
Except that this money is targeted at Muslim women to learn English. This is direct discrimination against women of many other faiths and backgrounds, surely, even if we could get past the challenge of anyone proving that they are Muslim? It would be the work of a second for a non-Muslim to say “I’ve converted” – you cannot prove anything. There are no certificates handed out when you start to follow any given faith, there are no badges, no special marks tattooed on your nose, and by the same measure, neither is there any sign that you are no longer of that faith. And what is there that makes Muslim women more susceptible to extremism or less likely to integrate? Repression occurs across all religions, and without them.
Except that this money is targeted at Muslim women. Because men are not involved here? The Prime Minister’s statements acknowledge every negative stereotype of a Muslim man, of Muslim culture. “Some of these people have come from quite patriarchal societies and perhaps the menfolk haven’t wanted them to speak English.” Weasel words ahoy – he takes his racism and dresses it up in vagueness: “some” and “perhaps”. Take those words out and it might as well be an anti-Islamic diatribe from the 1920s. And what of support for men? Are men not educable to the mighty white mindset? All these claims demonstrate a lack of understanding of a complex issue – to lay the blame at the feet of men and a “patriarchal” culture is a sweeping and possibly inaccurate statement – there are many issues which contribute to women not being able to engage with ESOL classes. I would say the biggest barrier is a lack of access to the classes – courses in communities are often the first to go when money gets tight, the big colleges and organisations pull out, and the charity and voluntary organisations simply don’t have the resources to compensate (again, £20 million won’t even touch this).
Except that this money is the (shabby, threadbare) velvet glove on the iron fist. Smile at my munificence, says Mr Cameron, look how giving and loving I am. Oh and by the way, he continues, if you fail to engage with this after two and half years, we will take this as a sign of not wanting to integrate, and we will add it to the deportation charge sheet.
I’m not sure which bit of this makes me crosser. I think that it’s the insulting nature of the £20 million, the arrogance of it, as if the whole ESOL community, teachers and learners, are now meant to fawn over the generosity of the government. It’s a cheap and tacky token payout from a government antithetical not only to immigrants, but also to humanity. But then, I’m hardly surprised.