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Race Disparity Audit: Community and Language

Race Disparity Audit: Community and Language

Categories: Latest News

Monday October 23 2017


Britain is more ethnically diverse than ever before. This is one of the many findings emerging from the new “Race Disparity Audit” commissioned by Theresa May at the beginning of her mandate and now available on the “Ethnicity Facts and Figures” website launched on October 10.


One of the key points highlighted in the report concerned language skills, having been a widely debated topic among UK policy-makers.

This new data does not seem to fully support the conclusions of the 2016 Casey Review, which was widlely criticised for its heavy focus on Muslim communities. The report stirred societal debate about BAME integration and identified poor English language skills as a primary concern regarding the integration of Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.

According to the Casey Review, “English language is a common denominator and a strong enabler of integration. But Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups have the lowest levels of English language proficiency of any Black or Minority Ethnic group”.

The Casey Review played directly into an already existing wave of hysteria that followed David Cameron’s recommendation of deporting Muslims who did not improve their language skills. As such, Louise Casey’s report further contributed to creating a misleading image of segregated Muslim communities refusing to engage with the ‘Westernised’ world.

However, while showing that 85% of Asian adults, feel that they belong to Britain, the Race Disparity Audit also suggests that poor language skills is not an issue to the extent implied by the Casey Review.

Firstly, the Race Disparity Audit identifies Chinese groups as the least likely to speak English as their main language, thus suggesting that poor language skills may not, in fact, be a problem specific to Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, nor a problem unique to Muslims.

Secondly, the new report shows that the majority of Pakistani and Bangladeshi individuals who do not speak English are over the age of 65, while the vast majority of young Pakistani and Bangladeshi individuals do, in fact, speak English proficiently. Indeed, while almost half of Bangladeshi women and a third of Pakistani women aged 65 and over could not speak English, among those aged 16 to 24, only around 1% faced the same problem.

As such, it appears that English language acquisition is a generational problem. Therefore, considering the young age demographic of Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities (15.3% are under the age of 25), language cannot be seen as a barrier to integration for the vast majority within these communities and is a problem that can be expected to ease even further over time.


Where does the problem lie?

While there is no dispute that poor language skills will necessarily impact an individual’s integration into wider society, studies have repeatedly shown that there are other variables that should not be overlooked. Employment is one such factor that is widely considered to be a key condition in successful integration. Therefore, it is important to consider the barriers and challenges that many BAME individuals face in accessing the labour market.

For example, a study conducted by the BBC in February 2017 has highlighted that minority ethnic-sounding names are enough to reduce the likelihood of people being offered a job interview. The study showed that out of 100 identical applications submitted, ‘Adam’ was three times more likely to receive an interview offer than ‘Mohamed’, despite having identical skills and experiences.

Such findings support the Cabinet Office’s concept of the “ethnic penalty”, as a means to explain “discrimination faced by minorities in the labour market when other factors, such as qualifications, are controlled”. In other words, many people face discrimination that is compounded by their ethnicity, by their religion and by their gender. Discrimination occurs regardless of one’s proficiency in the English language.

As such, addressing the issue of integration therefore requires tackling a multitude of social and economic issues faced by minorities.


Language Barriers and Austerity

Research published in 2016 by the Runnymede Trust and Women’s Budget Group (WBG) has shown that BAME groups have suffered the most from the policies of fiscal austerity pushed forward by the Government since 2010. As Omar Khan, director of Runnymede Trust, pointed out: “Changes to tax credits and other welfare payments will hit minority ethnic Britons harder than their white compatriots”.

While making BAME individuals poorer, the cuts also severely reduce their chances to improve their language skills where this is required. In 2008, the government spent £230 million on the programme English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), a figure reduced to £130 million by 2013 and to less than £90 million in 2015. The wider cuts to the adult skills budget (down by 35% – or £400 million) mean that ESOL is simply at risk of disappearing. To this day, England still has no strategy for English for speakers of other languages, despite the importance that the government attributes to language skills.

Greater integration could be achieved by (amongst other things) increasing the funding for ESOL – a critical step in ensuring equal opportunities for non-English speakers and to allow them to fully engage with society.


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