Thousands of women could be priced out of English classes, new report warns
Almost 60,000 women studying English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) could be priced out of education if the government pushes ahead with planned changes to the benefit system, a new report has shown today.
From September, the government will stop funding education for people on 'inactive' benefits (which include income support, working families' tax credit and housing benefit).
Today's equality impact assessment by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), looking at how changes to eligibility will affect learners, revealed that 58,000 women would no longer qualify for free courses under the new system.
UCU said if the government pushed ahead with the changes it would be denying people on benefits access to the one thing that is likely to improve their life chances and, perversely, get them off benefits.
The findings come less than a fortnight after a report from the Association of Colleges (AoC), estimated that the changes would leave 250,000 people with fees of between £500 and £1,000 a year and that around three-quarters of them (185,000) would be women. Some experts say the number of people affected will be closer to 300,000*.
The union said the changes in eligibility made a mockery of David Cameron's calls in April for immigrants to learn English and was a body blow to community cohesion.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'This assessment confirms our worst fears and underlines how women will be disproportionately affected by these changes. There is simply no logical reason for denying people on benefits access to the one thing that is likely to improve their life chances, and get them off benefits.
'These plans are a huge body blow for community cohesion, and fly in the face of David Cameron's call for more immigrants to learn English. The government should be making radical changes to help people into education, not slashing their benefits to give them less chance of acquiring the skills needed to get them back in the jobs market.'
* Nick Linford, managing director at Lsect, a company specialising in post-16 funding, performance and data, and author of The Hands-on Guide to Post 16 Funding estimates that that around 25% of adult provision, or 300,000 adults, will be affected.