Derby, is one of the many regions in the UK which has been given funding to improve the English language of its Job Seekers. From 28 April 2014 there will be a more rigorous assessment as to whether a person claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) has the right level of language skills to secure employment. Some form of screening process will be done to all claimants at the beginning of their application period to judge the nature and extent of training required. An implication of this policy change is that JSA was being given to individuals who had precious little chance of getting a job due to poor command of the language.
The Job Centre Plus will be provided with a “tool” that does the screening assessment. This will be rolled out to all offices before 28th April. They will be looking to identify people who have an ability below Entry Level Stage 2 – which is considered to be the fluency and vocabulary of a 7-9 year old. The majority of children of this age who have been brought up in the UK in an English speaking household will be able to speak the language confidently, across a range of routine situations with a healthy depth of words.
This policy could support people who are native English speakers but who have some form of learning difficulty with the language as well as foreigners who, in the main, cannot speak the language at all, and may have been subject to poor educational experience in their home country.
Derby has at least 60 different nationalities with even more languages, from countries spread across the globe. Theoretically, at least, there could be prospective Job Seekers who need English training from each one of these tongues; it is unlikely that those teachers exist within Derby.
How will the money be allocated and who will ensure the quality of the teacher to give the claimant the best opportunity to learn the requisite level of English?
The training that will be provided will be for under 16 hours per week and last from 7 – 20 weeks. This is in addition to their existing obligations under JSA with respect to finding work. It is expected that within 6 months they will have made a marked improvement. If not, then they may be referred again. The real test will come when, after 6 months, or so, the claimant has not progressed sufficiently well in learning the language , and is then subject to the more stringent rules of the Habitual Residency Test which includes reference to language qualifications. If these do not meet the higher test level then they may lose access to benefits. This is the crunch point.
For those people whose mother-tongue is unusual and where highly capable teachers do not exist, then how will the Government respond to this lack of progress. Will they be applying the rules rigidly to the point of sanctioning the claimant with all of its consequential effects?
The Department of Work and Pensions have allocated £30m in 2014/5 to cover this training across the UK with £289,000 being budgeted for Derby. A cynic might say that this is a small price to pay to create more ambiguity in the system which will provide more opportunities for sanctioning claimants.
Anyone who is looking for work who has English skills below Entry Level 2 is, in some way, vulnerable. By definition they will not be able to entertain a debate with the Job Centre Plus staff, or appeal in the event of sanctioning.
I fully accept that without the ability to speak English someone cannot get a placement much above a basic unskilled job which, in the long term is an unacceptable position. The risk of Government policy being arbitrarily applied in a draconian way to save money is high. Whilst Government finances will be marginally improved, the impact on the life of the individual will be devastating and will only serve to drive them into a position of economic paralysis and reliance on charity elsewhere in the system.
Note: The outstanding questions will be followed up with the DWP and the service providers to establish how this service will actually be provided.
Categories: ESOL English Language