Having been savaged after my previous posting on Gaelic, you’d imagine I should be wary of returning to the subject in any form. Nothing ventured … The DWP has introduced, from 27 November, a new language requirement for JSA claimants in Scotland and Wales, so that any JSA claimant who doesn’t speak or understand English adequately (or Welsh, if in Wales) may be mandated to attend training. We have more than 300,000 people in Scotland who don’t speak English at home. 54,000 speak Polish, and more than 60,000 more speak Urdu, Punjabi or Chinese. Then there are others who speak native languages that are not English. Some of them (about 25,000) are Gaelic speakers. Some (12,500) use British Sign Language. Many people in those categories will be competent in English as well, but there’s no certainty of it. If they’re not, attendance will be mandatory.
There will be some discretion, and I’d hope that due allowance would be made for disability and difference, but the operation of the current sanctions regime doesn’t offer much solace. My objection to pushing non-English speakers to speak English is much the same as my objection to pushing non-Gaelic speakers to use Gaelic. It’s fine if it expands people’s choices and horizons; it’s objectionable if it limits them, and particularly if it interferes with people’s ability to access public services. This looks like a prime case of the second.