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This month the NHS turned 70. It’s an institution we are proud of that has transformed lives, and since its very beginnings migrants have been at the heart of the NHS. Following the second world war, the government launched a massive international recruitment drive to encourage nurses and doctors to make Britain their home and build our world-class health system. Today one in every eight NHS employees was born overseas. It reflects Britain, a diverse country that works together.
A strategy for integration
Since being invited to the UK to staff the NHS, migrants have also contributed hugely to many other areas of life in the UK. From agriculture and hospitality, to business and the England football team, our country is enriched by its diversity. You might find it strange, then, that Britain has never had a national strategy to ensure people can settle successfully in their new communities. That’s about to change as proposals have been brought forward by the government, with input from MRC. We spoke to over 200 people about their lives in the UK to ensure their voices are heard. A common theme is that migrants value being able to speak English and want more opportunities to learn.
Our common language is essential for everything from popping down to the local shop for some milk and interacting with our neighbours, to succeeding at work. Speaking the same language allows people to learn from each other, about each other’s customs and culture. It allows communities to be a place where everyone can feel at home and are able to contribute. That’s why we focus so much of our time teaching people this life skill.
Ayshea, a qualified graphic designer and one of our clients, came to the UK from Lebanon with her six-year old son, Adnan. Ayshea spoke very little English which made it difficult to continue her career. She signed up to our ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) class, and quickly progressed. But Ayshea had another reason to learn. “I want to be able to help Adnan with his homework like every parent should”, she told our staff.
Not as easy as ABC
As many of us experienced in school, learning a second language isn’t easy and the same is true of English. For adults, its especially difficult to learn a new language while juggling jobs and family commitments. What’s more, some migrants and refugees never had the opportunity to learn to read or write in their own language. And others are still coping with past trauma.
Ayshea had to overcome a form of ADHD to learn English.
In a commercial language school, a 12-week (4 hours per week) English course typically costs £275. This is simply not affordable for so many people who have moved to the UK. And it’s extremely difficult to find free classes since government funding for English has been cut by over 60% in the last five years. It’s no surprise that an estimated 770,000 people living in the UK cannot speak English well.
English our way
Every week MRC helps 500 people to learn English so they can do well in their job, support their families and feel at home in their community. Without our classes, many people like Ayshea would not be able to learn English.
From experience we know that ESOL courses must be tailored to people’s real lives in order to put them in the best position to succeed. That’s why we hold classes in the morning, afternoon and evening. People who have jobs can study after work. Parents can study around their children’s school schedule. All together, we provide lessons at seven different levels of ability.
Ayshea has time collect Adnan from school and attend English classes in the evening. Her level of English has improved greatly and she now has a part-time job.
All of our classes promote practical English to help people integrate. We don’t just teach grammar and vocabulary. We teach people to write a CV, a job application, or a letter to their MP. This way students are learning English, while learning practical skills about living in the UK and being an active part of their community. The classes are delivered by qualified teachers who volunteer for us, enabling us to make places freely available to people who want to learn English. With a growing waiting list, our ambition is to open more classes across London. Without the generosity of our donors this work simply would not be possible.
As we celebrate the NHS, we are also celebrating the enormous contributions of people who came the UK to support it. And we are working to ensure everyone coming to the UK now has the tools to make a successful new life in our communities. Learning English is one big part of this integration journey. We are helping many people like Ayshea to find work, look after their family’s health and get more involved in their communities. I look forward to telling you more about these areas of our work in my next blog.
Wayne D Myslik
CEO, Migrants Resource Centre