Alison Thewliss MP sitting at her desk in Parliament

SNP MP urges UK Government to reverse ESOL funding cuts

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has called on the UK Government to reverse damaging funding cuts to English language courses for refugees and asylum seekers and give asylum seekers the opportunity to work whilst they wait for their claims to be heard by the Home Office.

According to research from the charity Refugee Action, UK government funding for ESOL classes in England and Wales has shrunk by more than £110 million in six years, leaving many applicants waiting up to three years to begin their learning. Combined with restrictions which prevent asylum seekers from working whilst in the UK, many asylum seekers and refugees face an uphill struggle to integrate into their new communities.

In Scotland, additional funding of over £1.4 million has been provided for ESOL classes as part of the Scottish Government’s New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy, which has created over 10,000 English language learning opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers.

Commenting, following a Westminster Hall debate on English language teaching for refugees, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“It is great to see the Scottish Government doing all it can to support refugees and asylum seekers integrate into Scottish society. The landmark New Scots refugee integration strategy, backed by £1.4 million of funding for ESOL classes, has improved the prospects of thousands of refugees across Scotland to access work and education opportunities.

“There are a number of organisations in my wonderfully diverse constituency offering first class English language teaching classes, at various locations across Glasgow. One such organisation is Nan McKay Community Hall, who have been providing English language support for at least fourteen years now, and the service continues to be very much in demand. Many of those who have enrolled at Nan McKay Community Hall have become part of the life of the community; they go on trips together, enjoy cookery and art, these brand new Glaswegians from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Poland, Greece, Sudan, and more besides.

“Despite considerable efforts in Scotland to improve refugee integration, it remains deeply concerning that the UK Government continues to place undue restrictions on asylum seekers who wish to contribute to society whilst their claims are being processed by the Home Office. Even modest participation in the labour market by a quarter of all asylum seekers in the UK would save the UK Government money whilst boosting economic growth and improving social cohesion.

“Supporting vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers is not just the right thing to do, it brings tangible economic benefits to society as a whole. The UK Government can start today by reversing the damaging cuts to ESOL and stop alienating refugees and asylum seekers from the communities that seek to welcome their contribution.”

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