Monday, 27 April 2009
Mind your language!
This week Barnet Homes is running an open day for non English speaking council tenants.
Barnet Council has a translation and interpretation policy which states:
“Communicating effectively in English is believed by Government to contribute to the creation of strong and cohesive communities who have shared values and experiences as defined by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion.”
“The Government recently issued guidance on the translation of publications which emphasises the importance of the universal use of English, and recommends that translations should only be used in a selective and targeted way, be part of a wider communication strategy for communities, and act as a stepping stone to encourage people to learn English. Barnet’s draft policy is consistent with this guidance.”
This is a particularly delicate subject because obviously the council does not want to discriminate against any residents or be considered racist. On the whole, I think the council has got this policy right.
Tracey Lees, Chief Executive of Barnet Homes said: “We aim to provide services that meet the needs of all our tenants and to make everyone feel welcome and included.”
I have no argument with that guiding principle, but is it being unreasonable to ask that people who are in receipt of a council property should learn to speak English?
My paternal grandparents arrived in this country at the turn of the last century fleeing persecution. They were warmly welcomed into British society and, in common with most refugees at that time, they learnt to speak the language.
The United Kingdom has a long and proud tradition of accepting genuine refugees to our shores and, needless to say, I am in full support of that policy. But it almost goes without saying that unless they can speak English, they will never be able to fully integrate into society.
The danger is that if immigrants are perceived to be receiving special treatment, it can breed resentment amongst the indigenous population and gives an excuse to extremist groups like the BNP to whip up racial tension.
If people are entitled to benefits, they should receive them. But rather than spending what must be a small fortune on providing interpreters and translation services, wouldn’t the money be better spent teaching immigrants English?