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'Government hypocrisy' say lecturers, as benefits may be cut for those not learning English

12 February 2007 | last updated: 12 March 2019

The government has been accused of hypocrisy over its plan to withhold state benefits from jobless people who are unable to speak English and cannot demonstrate that they are learning the language.

UCU slammed the plan, announced today by Welfare minister Jim Murphy, and pointed to thousands of people on waiting lists for courses in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and government plans to restrict access to the courses by introducing charges unaffordable to most who wish to study.

UCU represents tutors of ESOL taught in hundreds of colleges and community locations. In October last year, the government announced it would severely restrict access to free ESOL courses from August 2007, as demand and cost have grown. But the plan has received widespread criticism from academic, community and human rights organisations. A 'Save ESOL' campaign was launched in January by UCU and fifty other organisations demanding a rethink of the policy. 136 MPs have already backed the call. A lobby of parliament is planned for 28 February.

Roger Kline, head of equality and employment rights at UCU said: 'It is utter hypocrisy for the government to watch waiting lists grow for English language courses and plan measures to make it tougher for people to get on a course, and now threaten to remove benefits from those who are not studying. If this is joined up thinking it is joined up like a plate of spaghetti.

'If the government was getting anywhere near to satisfying demand for ESOL it could have a case for pressing any reluctant unemployed people to take courses, but there is not a shortage of willing students - there is a shortage of provision.

'Employers tell us ESOL is helping migrant workers to bring great benefits to the economy and ESOL obviously enhances community cohesion - another government objective.

'UCU is in favour of providing ESOL for all who want it and we think Gordon Brown should be budgeting for expansion of ESOL in his comprehensive spending review.

'It's not rocket science: provide enough affordable courses and the thousands on the waiting lists will do them. In the meantime, cutting interpreting services would be irresponsible.'

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