Go back to the drawing board Mr Cameron and try again.

Last night, one of my female Muslim carers made an interesting comment. She echoed the words spoken by a Muslim woman who was on the evening news at the time, ‘Why just Muslim women?’

The report they were both commenting on was a story about David Cameron proposal that the government should spend £20m on providing English lessons for Muslim women? Both my carer and the woman on the TV said the same thing, practically in unison.

Why just women and why just Muslims?

Why not both men AND women of any nationality OR religion who don’t speak English?

The government have really cut ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) provision since they first came to power, why not put the £20m into funding for everyone who needs it? It’s not just Muslims and it’s not just women who need help, many other recent arrivals could benefit.

We recently had some building and improvement work done in our house. The Housing Association awarded the contract to a local building company who subcontracted some of the work to other, smaller builders in the area. The guys who came to my house were very nice but barely spoke English at all which made things more than a little difficult.  It would have been very helpful if they could have had the opportunity to attend English improvement lessons before they started working in people’s houses but they never had the chance. And they still wouldn’t have had the chance even if this new £20m initiative had been in place.

Why?

Because they were not women.

They were Eastern European men.

They may have been Muslim, there was no way of telling and I didn’t ask but they were definitely men.

Thanks to the cuts Mr Cameron has previously made to ESOL provision in this country, there are now few lessons they could attend. There is ever decreasing help available for new arrivals who need to learn our language. What are people supposed to do, learn by osmosis? As far as I can see, it would appear so. Our local college in Lambeth has had to halve it’s ESOL provision over the last few years and this appears to be a story which is the same at colleges nationwide. Demand is there, provision is not.

In 2008 the Government spent £230 million on ESOL provision in the UK. By 2013 this figure had been reduced to £130 million and is set to fall by a further £90 million after the cuts that were made last summer.As a result ESOL participation has fallen by 22%. The demand is still there, some courses have waiting lists of over a thousand people, it’s money and investment that is lacking.

So will this new promise of £20 million help? Probably. A bit anyway. Some women will get a chance, as long as they are Muslim, but men and non-Muslims will have to go on suffering in silence because they don’t speak English..

And that seems, to me, to be discriminatory.

I don’t often say that a policy appears to discriminate against men, it’s usually women, but in this instance men seem to be losing out. As for the Muslim thing, what about other faiths? Or people of no faith at all? Don’t they need to be able to speak English too? According to Mr Cameron It would appear not and that is very unfair. Give everyone who needs it a chance, not just one gender and one specific belief system.

If we want immigrants to be able to contribute their skills and taxes into the national pot then we need to let them be on a level playing field with other workers. Cutting ESOL provision is a short term saving that will backfire in the long term and to focus exclusively on one gender and one faith is wrong and discriminatory to everyone else who could benefit who doesn’t fit the narrow criteria for help. Have some classes that are for women only if that is what people want and what makes them most comfortable but make sure the money is properly distributed so that as many people as possible can be helped. Current plans do not make sense and seem to have been badly thought out. Go back to the drawing board Mr Cameron and try again. You could do so much better. Stop playing with our money and invest it where it will benefit the most number of new arrivals of both genders and all faiths. If you do this properly it will, ultimately, benefit the whole country as well.

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