When 36-year-old Ayse Dogan came to England from Turkey 13 years ago, she could not speak a word of English.
Unable to do basic things like talk to the doctor or go shopping, Ayse enrolled on a free English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course and within seven months was able to communicate with confidence and become a member of society.
But success stories like Ayse’s could now be a thing of the past after the Coalition Government announced plans to cut funding for ESOL courses.
The new rules mean only those on ‘active’ benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance will be eligible for free ESOL classes.
For all other students, the course costs up to £1,197 a year if they are from the EU, and can rise to up to £2,736 for those outside.
Haggerston councillor Jonathan McShane said the cuts would have a devastating impact on Hackney and its population of 15,000 migrants and refugees, many of whom are not eligible for such benefits.
He also criticised prime minister David Cameron for sending out mixed messages to immigrants about integration.
He said: “David Cameron complained that multiculturalism isn’t working, but taking away ESOL removes the means for people to learn the language skills they need to integrate and settle in.
“The most borrowed book at my local library is the Home Office’s citizenship test guide. That suggests to me that people want to better themselves, and that should be supported.”
Ali-Riza Aksoy, chair of the Hackney Refugee Forum, said the cuts to ESOL was an attack on migrants and would make it even harder for communities to integrate.
He said: “Stopping ESOL is like a form of racism. Maybe they want to keep the migrants and refugees as second-class citizens and turn the country into one big detention centre?
“If you can’t speak English, you can’t be a British citizen. It’s like being disabled.”
Mr Aksoy said the biggest impact would be on low-paid workers, women and asylum seekers, who would no longer qualify for free ESOL classes and will find it almost impossible to pay the fees themselves.
He said: “We have a girl who comes to see us called Maria. She’s from Bulgaria and is destitute. If she can’t speak English, how can she find employment? And if she can’t find employment, how can she afford lessons?”
A spokesperson at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the Government would continue to fund ESOL for people on active benefits where language skills are a barrier to gaining employment, but insisted it is fair that learners contribute towards costs when public funds are limited.