English language cuts condemned

Unions have called for the government to prioritise life-long learning to boost skills.

On Monday, Gordon Brown told the TUC Congress the nation’s workforce must increase its skills to meet the challenges of a global economy.

But delegates on Tuesday criticised the government for cutting funding for adult learning – especially English language provision – while praising the importance of skills.

Sally Hunt, University and College Union general secretary, said it was time the government matched rhetoric and reality and “put lifelong learning back where it belongs at the centre of policy”.

Ms Hunt added: “Now is the time to invest in adult and community education for life not cut it.”

Unions expressed concerns the government is encouraging migrant labour to fill skills gaps, and then relying on unions to provide the necessary language training.

Tony Richards from Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union warned it was “pernicious and misguided” to consider cutting funding for ESOL.

Delegates reported falling enrolment on ESOL English classes since funding had been cut and the UCU warned students were deterred because of the increased personal cost.

Paddy Lillis, deputy general secretary at Usdaw, said courses were already being forced to close because students cannot afford to enrol.

Ms Hunt warned government cuts were hitting the unemployed, vulnerable and low-paid the hardest.

She argued: “government policy must be about opening doors, not shutting them.

“We in the trade union movement must stand for education as the great liberator. It is a workers’ right – not grave and favour to be granted by an employer”.

Unions warn immigrants without adequate English skill can struggle to follow health and safety guidance, as well as risking social and economic exclusion.