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'Passive tolerance' of separate communities must end, says PM

£20 million English language tuition fund announced yesterday will help combat social isolation for some Muslim women. 

  • building one nation means being more assertive about liberal values
  • poor English skills leave nearly 200,000 Muslim women isolated in society
  • new £20 million community fund to teach English to isolated women

The ‘passive tolerance’ of separate communities must end if we are to build a strong society and allow Britain to thrive, the Prime Minister said yesterday.

Writing in the Times, he said issues like gender segregation and discrimination and the isolation of some women in society could help lead to a slide towards radicalisation and extremism.

And, in announcing a £20 million language tuition fund, he highlighted statistics showing 190,000 Muslim women – 22% of the population – had little or no English.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

All too often, because of what I would call ‘passive tolerance’, people subscribe to the flawed idea of separate development.

It is time to change our approach. We will never truly build one nation unless we are more assertive about our liberal values, more clear about the expectations we place on those who come to live here and build our country together and more creative and generous in the work we do to break down barriers.

And this is a challenge that government cannot meet on its own. I do want every part of government to play its part – health visitors, job centres, nurseries, schools – but we all have a shared responsibility to tackle prejudice and bigotry, and help integration.

Why does this matter so much? Because we don’t just need a strong economy to thrive, we have to build a strong society.

In his Times article, the Prime Minister said Muslim women at a community engagement forum he chaired had told him of problems in parts of society – of forced gender segregation, of discrimination, and of social isolation.

And he said he would not avoid telling the ‘hard truths’ required to confront the minority of Muslim men whose ‘backward attitudes’ exert ‘damaging control’ over women in their families.

He said:

This is Britain. In this country, women and girls are free to choose how they live, how they dress and who they love. It’s our values that make this country what it is, and it’s only by standing up for them assertively that they will endure.

In Britain, men are not frightened of women’s success; it is celebrated proudly.

But the PM stressed it was not a job for government alone to build a stronger, more integrated society and that it was the responsibility of migrants to improve their English language skills if they wanted to extend their stay in the UK or seek citizenship.

He said:

Britain has a claim to be the most successful multi-faith, multi-racial democracy on the planet. We got here because we fought and won those long struggles for liberty, equality and mutual tolerance.

But the job of building a more cohesive country is never complete. With English language and women’s empowerment as our next frontier, I believe we can bring Britain together and build the stronger society that is within reach.

Notes to editors

  • The new English language scheme will reach tens of thousands of the most isolated women and will be targeted to specific communities based on Louise Casey’s ongoing review into segregation in England.
  • Classes will take place in homes, schools and community facilities, with travel and childcare costs provided to remove some of the greatest barriers to participation.
  • It will build on and extend the English language fund, run by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which will have provided training to 33,500 adults by March 2016.
  • In the last Parliament we introduced new English language requirements to immigration rules.
  • Those applying to settle permanently in the UK must now be able to speak intermediate English and pass a Life in the UK test, based on British history, culture and values.
  • New visa rules will mean those coming to the UK on a spouse visa will be expected to become more fluent in English over time, with a new language test for those seeking a visa extension after 2 and a half years in the UK. They will not be introduced before October, to allow migrants time to improve English language skills.
  • There are no plans to remove migrants who fail to reach the required level, but it would be taken into account in any request to extend visas or apply for permanent residence.


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