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English, do you speak it? UK govt mulls tightening welfare benefits for immigrants

Published time: January 20, 2014 03:28
Edited time: January 20, 2014 12:06
Reuters / Stefan Wermuth

Reuters / Stefan Wermuth

The UK government reportedly plans to effectively strip welfare benefits from those immigrants who cannot speak English. Under the draft law taxpayer-funded translators and welfare documentation will not be available in other languages but English.

In order to encourage newcomers to learn English the British government wants to get rid of the foreign language information manuals designed for immigrants to claim government benefits. The Prime Minister also wants the UK government offices to save money and stop paying translators, as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spends roughly £5 million per year on translation services for claimants.

In 2011 DWP used interpreters 271,695 times, statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act show. Most of the taxpayers’ money, some £3.5 million, was paid into the Big Word account, an outsourced company responsible for providing translation services in more than 140 languages, including Vietnamese, Urdu and Gujarati. Statistics also revealed that claimants use phone interpreters up to 22,000 times per month while face-to-face translators are used 13,000 times a year.

The measures, authored by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, were to be announced on Monday, the Daily Mail reports.

Reuters / Eddie Keogh

However, the announcement has reportedly been postponed due to a dispute with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Conservatives hope the changes will be confirmed later this week if the Liberal Democrats can be persuaded.

Currently the inability of immigrants to speak English does not bar them obtaining benefits. Translation services are available in local councils and at all Job centres.

The vast majority of voters will think this idea is plain common sense. It is unreasonable to expect taxpayers to spend huge sums on translators when people should be learning to read and write English,” one Tory insider told the Daily Mail.

“The principle is a good one but it needs to be introduced in a way that’s fair and reasonable,” Liam Fox, the former Defence Secretary said. “If it is, it will meet with general public approval. The ability to speak English is one of the most empowering tools in the labour market and we should be encouraging as many people as possible to learn it.”

According to a recent poll by the Ipsos Mori, 63 percent of Britons supported tightening the welfare system. In general, however, British people do not seem to mind migrants coming to the UK, if they learn English, get a job, pay taxes and become part of their local community. According to the poll 72 percent of people aged between 35 and 44 support migrants’ right to come to the UK.

Writing in The Daily Mail, Cabinet ministers Ian Duncan Smith and Theresa May said that laws are also being introduced in April that will prevent new EU arrivals from claiming housing benefit, even if they are already receiving jobseeker’s allowance.

Immigrants who have a job, but then go onto the dole will only be able to claim housing benefit for six months, before having to prove that they have a genuine prospect of work.

Under emergency legislation that took effect on January 1, all new EU migrants now have to wait for at least three months before they can claim out-of-work benefits.

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