The Prime Minister launches the Government's ‘Ethnicity Facts and Figures’ website today. It highlights the disadvantage experienced by Britain’s ethnic groups in their interactions with public services, drawing on information about health, education, housing, employment and criminal justice. It is perhaps unsurprising in the bleak picture it paints of the outcomes and experiences of many from BAME communities, particularly women.
In response the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, argues that the data would not provide the answers to why disparity existed, but said the Government wanted to work with outside groups to come up with ways it could tackle the injustice.
At TimeBank our Talking Together programme goes some way to provide a solution. Our volunteer-delivered English language project across London and the Midlands offers informal spoken language training support to long-term UK residents who have little or no knowledge of English. Our practical input really helps transform lives, open doors and contribute to community integration. Talking Together works with women learners from the Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Somali communities. Research shows that it’s women in these communities who make up the largest proportion of non-English speakers.
Working with groups at grassroots level we have been careful to consult and work with the women who are our learners to make sure we tailor the lessons to their needs. The most consistent response was that they wanted to improve their English for use at school with their children, attending the doctors, communicating online or by telephone and attending the Job Centre. They also mentioned the need to improve self-esteem, independence, well-being, autonomy and broadened horizons. We have worked on our curriculum with our learners to ensure that the lessons and activities focus on their children and education, moving closer to the job market, supporting them in their journey towards independence, well-being and integration.
The programme of classes finish with a celebration of their achievements – often with shared food or a trip out to an unfamiliar place to practice their skills, something that is particularly valued by our learners, volunteers and TimeBank staff. And that is where the programme adds even greater value - integration is not about one group of people having to do all the hard work to integrate and the other as passive observers. Our volunteers come from many different communities and backgrounds and in delivering the classes they learn about different cultures and experiences and challenges which can also break down barriers.
Our knowledge and experience of delivering Talking Together since 2013 to over 3,000 learners from the South Asian community is that there is a real passion for learning and greater integration – they just need to be offered the opportunity at a local level and asked to be involved.