At TimeBank we are delighted that the Casey Review has finally been released and that it clearly and explicitly recognises the vital importance of learning English as a means of boosting community integration. Although we’ve been working in this field since 2013 some of the statistics and findings of the report remain depressing reading:
- Poor English language skills have been shown to create a number of disadvantages, including a lower likelihood of participation in civic engagement or volunteering. As a national volunteering charity we take this very seriously – volunteering is often an entry point to paid employment, a way of decreasing social isolation, increasing skills, confidence and having fun!
- English language is a common denominator and a strong enabler of integration. But Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups have the lowest levels of English language proficiency of any Black or Minority Ethnic group – and women in those communities are twice as likely as men to have poor English.
- In relation to social and economic integration in particular, there is a strong correlation of increased segregation among Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic households in more deprived areas, with poorer English language and poorer labour market outcomes, suggesting a negative cycle that will not improve without a more concerted and targeted effort.
- 95% of people living in this country think that to be considered “truly British” you must be able to speak English (up from 86% in 2003) and 87% of people with English as their main language felt they belonged strongly to Britain compared to 79% of people without.
It is heartening then that one of the key recommendations is to prioritise funding for English language provision particularly the area we work in, community-based functional English language classes.
“Providing additional funding for area-based plans and projects that will address the key priorities identified in this review, including the promotion of English language skills, empowering marginalised women, promoting more social mixing, particularly among young people, and tackling barriers to employment for the most socially isolated groups ... Improving English language provision through funding for community-based classes and appropriate prioritisation of adult skills budgets.”
Over the last two and a half years 2,158 people – predominantly women from Bangladeshi, Somali and Pakistani communities - have completed TimeBank’s DCLG-funded English classes taught by more than 200 volunteers on our Talking Together project. It’s given them the confidence to talk to their children’s schools and their neighbours and, above all, to play a greater part in British life. Our volunteers too have increased their understanding of different cultures and the importance of communication across diverse communities.
One of the key areas for me is that integration can’t be one-way - so working with volunteers from a range of different communities and indeed different generations creates a shared understanding and a powerful set of stories across our communities. Talking Together has shown that volunteers can play an extremely effective role in supporting people to learn English, develop skills and build community integration. In addition there’s a very strong financial gain by empowering people towards employment, reducing the need for translations in our NHS or children’s schools. TimeBank’s Talking Together project delivered a Social Return on Investment of £9.31 for every £1 spent so it truly is value for money and we hope very much that the further investment will be forthcoming when the Secretary of State Sajid Javid reports back as he has promised to do in the New Year.