Time to grasp the opportunities of migration

28 April 2015

Views on levels of net migration tend to dominate the media and policy debate, but this is really a moot point.  The reality is that our economy’s reliance on low paid / low skilled jobs – together with our ageing population – means that it’s inevitable that many migrants will continue to come to the UK to meet labour market demand.  So, it’s high time that policy reflects the true net benefits that migration brings to our economy, alongside the responsibilities of migrants to play a full and productive role in UK society.  Sadly, this has been lacking from the broad policy debate and we are keen to engage each of the main political Parties in discussions on this early in the next Parliament.  

In March we published – Making Migration Work, where we highlighted the important role for lifelong learning and in-work progression to ensure that migrants are better able to contribute to sustainable and equitable economic growth. In Ten Policies for Ten People, we reiterate our call for urgent action to unlock the skills of migrants and other UK residents to ensure we meet the needs of business and create greater community cohesion – concentrating on three key asks that we want the next Government to enact within their first 100 days.

1) Fixing the broken market for ESOL – Overall, around 850,000 people in England and Wales are considered ‘non-proficient’ in English. This is a major barrier to integration and inclusion. However, reductions in funding and increased eligibility restrictions have resulted in a dramatic drop in participation in ESOL learning, large due to problems with supply.  Consequently, we have seen participation falling from an estimated 500,000 learners in 2006/07 to 139,000 in 2013/14.

To urgently improve supply we are calling for the budget for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) – estimated to be around £130 million per annum – to be focussed on those with the most need – at entry level. All other ESOL learners should be encouraged to contribute to the costs of learning above entry level, including by giving access to income-contingent Learning Loans, already in use for Level 3 and 4 learning among those aged over 24. We estimate this new market will be valued at between £150-200m and help ensure that it fixes the critical issue of supply, which holds back learners getting the learning they need.

2) New rights and responsibilities to learn English  – Leaving people without access to language learning leaves them isolated from the communities they live in and unable to access learning opportunities and jobs which will help them to unlock their talents and capabilities. While this relies on  improving supply, we  need to ensure that these increased opportunities will be taken up.  We therefore believe that everyone in a household in receipt of any benefit should be required to learn English, if they need to.

3) Government to lead by example – We are also calling for Government to show some leadership by establishing a pilot programme to improve English language proficiency of workers in the publicly-funded Social Care Sector.  We believe that the learning from this pilot could be used to inspire and inform similar activity in those sectors which have a higher representation of migrant workers, such as the food and drink and retail sectors.

These proposals will help to rapidly enhance the benefits of migration, supporting people on a journey to more fulfilling careers and lives for them and their families. Through Adult Learners’ Week we regularly meet many people who have started with entry-level ESOL, then go on to college, university and hugely rewarding careers. They  reinvest their energies back into their communities and workplaces as well as with their families by supporting and inspiring others.  This leads to not only stronger economies but a more tolerant, inclusive and integrated society.


Find out more about this policy area here or visit our proposals pageDownload Ten Policies for Ten People.