I know this is nothing new but I can't help commenting because it's something that really gets me angry. It seems from today's papers that David Cameron's address to the Conservative party on the subject of immigration includes quite a lot of stuff that is deliberately playing to a mind-set I'd rather hoped we'd seen the last of. I'm hesitant to use the word racist because it's so inflammatory and most certainly isn't how David Cameron would wish his words to be perceived. However, just looking at the text and how it is structured, we have the kind of non-racism that I've heard too often. It usually begins with the phrase, "I'm not a racist, but..."
I don't want to talk about that really. You can read the text for yourself and make up your own mind about it. The bit that gets to me is this.
But as well as abuse of the system, there are other problems with the family route. We know, for instance, that some marriages take place when the spouse is very young, and has little or no grasp of English. Again we cannot allow cultural sensitivity to stop us from acting. That's why last November we introduced a requirement for all those applying for a marriage visa to demonstrate a minimum standard of English …
The theme is continued with
We're making sure that anyone studying a degree-level course has a proper grasp of the English language.
That's why with us, if you're good at your subject, can speak English and have been offered a place on a course at a trusted institution – you will be able to get a visa to study here.
The idea appears to be that people living in England should speak English. As teaching English to people who can't speak it is my job,I can't argue with that. It's a very sound principle. I'm leaving in a few months to take up a post in China. While I am there I shall make every effort to learn the language of the society I'm in. I'll even try to to get some basics and some basic phrases before I go. It's the right thing to do.
The problem is that, as someone who has worked for a long time in the British Adult Education system, I've seen the provision of courses first expand slowly but then contract catastrophically. The new rules on who can have free English lessons make it almost impossible for most people to learn. In a discussion on TV this morning Ann Diamond has put the ill-informed and frankly preposterous view that if they are here they should be prepared to pay for English courses. The fact that asylum-seekers are forbidden to work and unable to claim benefits beyond the voucher system provided by the Government would seem to prevent that for them. The fact that in many households, as even admitted in the quote from David Cameron above, the wife has no access to her own money and the husband is unwilling or unable to pay for English lessons prevents another large section of society from attending Lessons. Even where someone is working the cost of the courses could well be too high to allow the difficult decision of allocating that much money to what might be perceived as an inessential activity.
The quotes from David Cameron, and the general view of the Government, seem to indicate that they would like everyone to learn to speak English but before they come here. This is borne out by the fact that for years complete beginners have not been funded and that now funding for the lower levels, what we refer to as the entry levels in ESOL, is rather harder to come by. The ladder of learning, in English at least, has no bottom rung. People are expected to already speak English before they start their English courses.
It's all very well to say that people living in the UK should learn to speak the language - who could disagree that it's a good idea - but to couple that with the removal of the only way that many have to do so seems more than just perverse. It's practically sadistic. The idea that people intending, for whatever reason, to move here will even have access to English lessons in their countries of origin is a massive leap of faith.
If the Government wishes to control immigration, and it's clear that they do, then regardless of my views on the subject they should do it honestly. Setting language conditions that are impossible for most people to meet is a dishonest way of doing it.