Some 770,000 people settled in the UK do not speak English, Sajid Javid said as he defended the UK Government’s proposals to encourage social integration.
The plans backed by £50 million of public money include measures to boost English language skills and proposals to require schools whose pupils come from a single ethnic or religious community to ensure they mix with children from other backgrounds.
Mr Javid – the Communities Secretary – said there was a “segregation problem” in some of England’s schools and action was needed to tackle it.
The proposed Integrated Communities Strategy calls on schools to teach “British values” and sets out plans to boost English language skills and encourage women from minority communities to find jobs.
A consultation paper on the plans follows the 2016 Casey Review, which warned that social cohesion could not be taken for granted in the multicultural UK.
Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today there were about 770,000 people settled in Britain who “speak no or very poor English”.
“Just imagine the opportunities they have given up on, the inability they have to socially mix with others and really contribute to society,” he said.
“It’s not fair on them and it’s not fair on the rest of society.”
Mr Javid, whose family came to the UK from Pakistan, said his mother took about ten years to learn English.
“I remember as a six or seven-year-old going to the doctor’s surgery with her, so I could interpret for her,” he said. Mr Javid said learning the language “absolutely transformed her life”.
Pressed on whether the money promised to support the strategy was enough, Mr Javid said: “It’s not just about the £50m. There’s actually a substantial amount the Government already spends on helping people learn English.”
But “there hasn’t been enough of a joined-up approach” between Whitehall and local government, he acknowledged.
Highlighting the “segregation problem” in schools, Mr Javid said: “We believe about 60 per cent of ethnic minority pupils ... they go to schools where ethnic minority pupils are in the majority.
“If you just think about that and the amount of segregation that has been caused by schools, something new has to be done.”
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “We want to make sure that all children learn the values that underpin our society, including fairness, tolerance and respect.
“These are values that help knit our communities together, which is why education is at the heart of this strategy.”
Think tank British Future released polling data suggesting a majority of voters would back schools teaching pluralistic British values (76 per cent), more support to learn English (67 per cent) and a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime and prejudice (79 per cent).
Some 63 per cent said the Government should use national events like St Andrew’s Day, St George’s Day and St David’s Day to bring people together.
British Future director Sunder Katwala said: “Integration isn’t just about British Muslims - it’s an issue for all of us.
“So it’s welcome that this green paper moves on from the Casey Review and broadens the integration debate.
“It could be an important step towards the national integration strategy that we’ve been missing - provided it’s followed up by action.”