A TORY Cabinet minister has signalled that immigrants who cannot speak English will be denied benefits in a move which has deepened the rift with the party’s Liberal Democrat coalition partners.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles insisted that immigrants who cannot speak English have no way of being a “full member” of British society. He admitted the details of such a policy – which has been backed by Labour home affairs select committee chairman Keith Vaz – had not yet been hammered out, but highlighted reforms made last year to cut translation services and boost spending on English classes.
The move comes as Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeve will today make her first announcement on welfare reform, insisting that those stuck on benefits will have to learn basic English and maths.
In an interview, Mr Pickles said: “Last year I stopped translation inside the Department for Communities and Local Government and asked local authorities to do the same, but at the same time I increased the amount of money available to learn English and we have done a series of quite innovative programmes of trying to target particular groups who don’t speak English to give them the gift of English.
“We don’t know how this policy is going to be put out, but I would say this – if you’re on benefit or whether you’re in work, you can’t be a full member of British society unless you speak English and you’re artificially reducing your chances of employment if you’re not speaking English.
“I recognise we have not been able to get to everybody, that’s why we have looked at doing it in places where people are confident to learn English. It might be the mosque, it might be at work, we might even look at doing it in some benefit places.”
A senior Liberal Democrat source said: “These are proposals from the Tories which haven’t been agreed in government. We’ve already taken significant steps to make sure we all enjoy the right to move and to work, but not a freedom to claim.
“We will look at these proposals, but would prefer the Tories to agree policies in government rather than chase Ukip’s tail via the Sunday papers.”
There was support from the Labour ranks although the party leadership refused to comment.
Mr Vaz said: “In principle, it is a good idea, but it could cost the taxpayer more because if people are refused benefit and have a genuine claim, they will sue the government.”
In her first major speech, Ms Reeves will set out the next steps in Labour’s plan to earn our way out of the cost-of-living crisis and ensure our social security system is fair and affordable.
She will announce a policy of teaching adults basic maths and English to help them get a job with all claimants assessed within six weeks of claiming benefits.
She will say: “Government plans in this area aren’t enough. They’re now asking jobseekers who exit the failed Work Programme to take up literacy and numeracy training, three whole years after those people first make a claim for benefits.”
The Tories accused her of copying one of their policies. A spokesman said: “Starting in some areas at first, anyone aged 18 to 21 signing on without these basic skills will be required to undertake training from day one or lose their benefits.”