We are a nation of immigrants. Aren’t we?

December 18, 2012 3:45 pm

I recall as a twelve year old growing up in the ‘Motor City’ that was Coventry and interpreting for my English school teacher who had started arranging English classes at the local Sikh Temple (Gurdawara). Twice a week in the evenings he volunteered (with me) to teach basic English as a second language to members of the local, relatively newly arrived congregation. This was at a time when no provisions had been made by employers, National or Local Government to teach English and hence improve engagement and dialogue between new arrivals and hosts. Many argued that the British State and employers only wanted the cheap labour of immigrants and did not address the issues arising out of settlement.

My father picked up rudimentary English from his colleagues on building sites where he worked as a carpenter and my mother learnt enough English to get on a bus, buy some groceries and say ‘hello and thank you’. How they would have loved an opportunity to learn the English language and therefore engage with employers who exploited them, have meaningful conversations with my teachers at parents teachers evenings and challenge the racists who abused them (P*** bashing was at it’s virulent worst – it was time when it was fashionable for white gangs to seek out and attack people of colour).

Forty year on, Ed Miliband has suggested that the ability to speak English improves engagement, interaction and therefore integration – seems logical to me. However, the dangerous inference is that immigrants choose to or not learn English, though many who arrived in the 60’s and 70’s from the ex-colonies included people from the Caribbean for whom English was their first language and were Christian like the host nation.

The issue of fluency in the English language is no longer on the same scale as it was for the pioneering immigrants of the 60’s and 70’s, most have now passed away or retired to the Indian Subcontinent. Today we have the fourth or fifth generation of children of immigrants from the Indian Sub continent and East Africa. For this generation not only do they speak English fluently but think and dream in English.

Proficiency in English is now relevant for immigrants from Eastern Europe. Again, history repeats itself as Coalition Government behaviour has led to the chronic underfunding of English-language teaching.

With the onslaught of Government policy on privatisation of public services, there are some private contractors who wilfully exploit workers’ lack of English skills, from migrants working in the agricultural sector packing food for supermarkets in East Anglia to cleaners in Westminster or GMB members cleaning and providing catering at Swindon General Hospital.

English language provision in isolation is not enough. Any debate or policy on immigration has to be holistic that addresses issues around housing, health care, education provision and fundamentally strengthening workplace rights with stronger sanctions against employers who wilfully abuse, exploit and in many cases degrade migrants. Yet the Coalition Government is hurtling in the opposite direction with proposals to reduce employment rights, reduce English language provision and it is not surprising that some new migrants are marginalised and a long way away from integrating into the mainstream of Britain.

The influx of migrants has seen a growth in xenophobic attitudes towards people coming into the UK to find work, particularly from Eastern Europe. In areas of Britain with higher rates of unemployment there has been growing resentment.

The last 70 or 80 years we have experienced migration from Europe and the rest of the world. For example Jewish people finding sanctuary from the Nazis, Irish people responsible for building our great railways and canals as well as people from the Commonwealth staffing our hospitals and transport systems. We forget at our peril that we are a nation of immigrants. Or should it be ‘One Nation’ of immigrants?

  • Amber_Star

    People should be required to learn English before they come to the UK, if they are coming here seeking work. Politically, we cannot add English lessons to the list of special support which new migrants will be perceived as receiving at the expense of people who are already residents/ citizens of the UK.
    Public funds need to be spend on helping people who are already here. Unemployment & lack of opportunity blights the lives of too many young & female ethnic minority citizens.

  • Amber_Star

    People should be required to learn English before they come to the UK, if they are coming here seeking work. Politically, we cannot add English lessons to the list of special support which new migrants will be perceived as receiving at the expense of people who are already residents/ citizens of the UK.
    Public funds need to be spend on helping people who are already here. Unemployment & lack of opportunity blights the lives of too many young & female ethnic minority citizens.

    • evad666

      Unemployment & lack of opportunity blights the lives of too many young & female (white and) ethnic minority citizens.

  • Amber_Star

    People should be required to learn English before they come to the UK, if they are coming here seeking work. Politically, we cannot add English lessons to the list of special support which new migrants will be perceived as receiving at the expense of people who are already residents/ citizens of the UK.
    Public funds need to be spend on helping people who are already here. Unemployment & lack of opportunity blights the lives of too many young & female ethnic minority citizens.

  • NT86

    Alongside the requirement to learn English, which needs to be supported by proper public funding, I’m afraid that UKIP’s idea for a responsible and controlled immigration policy is more important than ever. This is a tiny island that has only limited capacity and resources to sustain a population.

  • NT86

    Alongside the requirement to learn English, which needs to be supported by proper public funding, I’m afraid that UKIP’s idea for a responsible and controlled immigration policy is more important than ever. This is a tiny island that has only limited capacity and resources to sustain a population.

  • NT86

    Alongside the requirement to learn English, which needs to be supported by proper public funding, I’m afraid that UKIP’s idea for a responsible and controlled immigration policy is more important than ever. This is a tiny island that has only limited capacity and resources to sustain a population.

  • JoeDM

    The real issue is one of integration.

    The various groups of immigrants down the ages have integrated into our society, becoming part and parcel of British social culture. Where multiculturalism has failed is that it has given some immigrant communities the idea that they do not have to integrate, that they can have their own ghettos with their own separate development.

    Integration into the normal British way of life is the key. Allowing separate development is the path to a future disaster.

    After all the fuss about Polish immigration, where is the problem? I live in an East Anglian town with a big Polish community, but as far as I can see they have learned English, work very hard, contribute to our local clubs, pubs and societies etc. Our local jazz club jam nights has benefited from a couple of very good sax players who drive taxis during the day. This is the way it should be. Not failed multiculturalism.

  • JoeDM

    The real issue is one of integration.

    The various groups of immigrants down the ages have integrated into our society, becoming part and parcel of British social culture. Where multiculturalism has failed is that it has given some immigrant communities the idea that they do not have to integrate, that they can have their own ghettos with their own separate development.

    Integration into the normal British way of life is the key. Allowing separate development is the path to a future disaster.

    After all the fuss about Polish immigration, where is the problem? I live in an East Anglian town with a big Polish community, but as far as I can see they have learned English, work very hard, contribute to our local clubs, pubs and societies etc. Our local jazz club jam nights has benefited from a couple of very good sax players who drive taxis during the day. This is the way it should be. Not failed multiculturalism.

  • JoeDM

    The real issue is one of integration.

    The various groups of immigrants down the ages have integrated into our society, becoming part and parcel of British social culture. Where multiculturalism has failed is that it has given some immigrant communities the idea that they do not have to integrate, that they can have their own ghettos with their own separate development.

    Integration into the normal British way of life is the key. Allowing separate development is the path to a future disaster.

    After all the fuss about Polish immigration, where is the problem? I live in an East Anglian town with a big Polish community, but as far as I can see they have learned English, work very hard, contribute to our local clubs, pubs and societies etc. Our local jazz club jam nights has benefited from a couple of very good sax players who drive taxis during the day. This is the way it should be. Not failed multiculturalism.

  • MrSauce

    Yes we are.
    Was it Churchill who described Britain as a ‘mongrel nation’?
    Long may it continue.

Latest

  • News Scotland Johann Lamont denies quit rumours

    Johann Lamont denies quit rumours

    Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has denied rumours that she’s planning to quit – and says that she can beat the presumptive next SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, telling the Daily Record “I wouldn’t stand against her if I didn’t think I’d beat her”. Rumours have circulated in recent weeks that Lamont would step down after the referendum campaign – especially after her Glasgow constituents voted for independence – with Jim Murphy just one of those linked with […]

    Read more →
  • News Hours before Tory conference starts – ANOTHER Tory MP defects to UKIP

    Hours before Tory conference starts – ANOTHER Tory MP defects to UKIP

    First Douglas Carswell quit the Tories to join UKIP. Now Mark Reckless has acted like his name and joined the Purple Peril – and has just been announced as the latest defector at UKIP conference. Labour’s attack line is of course that UKIP are “More Tory than the Tories”. Reckless gave a speech that will have only backed that up. Have a great time in Birmingham Dave…. Update: Michael Dugher is straight out of the traps to react to the Reckless […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour conference, Ed Miliband and the English question

    Labour conference, Ed Miliband and the English question

    With all the usual attention to the policy thrust of the Leader’s speech, too few commentators recognised the radical new approach to England when Ed Miliband’s spoke to conference on Tuesday. Identity, an inescapable part of politics in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for years, is now part and parcel of English politics. It’s true, as Ed Miliband argued, that a desire for wider change drove much of the Scottish campaign. But once people see the chance of change tied […]

    Read more →
  • News LabourList Contributing Editor nominated for major comment award

    LabourList Contributing Editor nominated for major comment award

    A few months ago we announced the expansion of our team. Conor Pope and Maya Goodfellow joined us as staff writers and have already made an immense difference to the site, increasing both the quality and quantity of our output over the past few months. In fact – the last six months has been by far the most successful in LabourList’s history – culminating in our massively over-subscribed Labour conference programme. We’ve also added two Contributing Editors to the site […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour’s attack line for this week?: “The Tories: for a privileged few”

    Labour’s attack line for this week?: “The Tories: for a privileged few”

    As journalists, lobbyists, and even a few Tory members head to Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, it seems there’s a new Labour Party masthead on their press releases this week. Labour’s key message this week? The Tories are for the “privileged few”: There’s even a briefing document outlining Labour’s lines of attack. Meanwhile, here’s the masthead of Labour’s UKIP press releases: The next week is going to be about attack, it seems…

    Read more →
7ads6x98y