Immigrants learning English

Published: 13th Dec 2016

In brief

Claim

Many immigrants who speak no English arrived in the UK as grandparents.

Conclusion

It’s true that older immigrants make up a disproportionate number of those who have no English, although they’re still in a minority. About 25% of migrants who can’t speak any English arrived after they turned 50.

 

Only 138,000 immigrants spoke no English at the last census, less than 0.3% of population.

 

Not quite correct. 138,000 people in the UK spoke no English at the last census, about 0.3% of the population. 118,000 of those people were born outside the UK, 20,000 inside.

Claim 1 of 2

“According to 2011 Census data… more than 760,000 people aged 16+ in England (1.8% of the population) could not speak English well or at all”

Dame Louise Casey, 5 December 2016

“Only 138,000 migrants, fewer than 0.3% of population, speak no English. Many an older generation who had come as grandparents. Census 2011.”

Alan Travis, 5 December 2016

The figures given in the Casey review are correct. Leaving aside those under 16, a total of 768,000 people in England reported that they couldn’t speak English well or at all at the 2011 census.

Mr Travis’s figures refer to England and Wales, and are also correct.

In the last census, about 0.3% of the population of England and Wales aged three or over reported that they spoke no English or Welsh.

Not all 138,000 of those people were immigrants. 118,000 people born outside the UK spoke no English or Welsh. The rest of the group was born inside the UK and included, for example, people whose main language was a was a sign language.

Another 726,000 people said that they spoke either English or Welsh but not well, making up another 1.3% of the population. 687,000 of them had been born outside the UK.

So overall, about 1.6% of the population said they didn’t speak either English or Welsh well or at all.

It’s also true that older immigrants were less likely to speak either English or Welsh well

About half of people born outside the UK had a first language that wasn’t English (or Welsh).

59% of non-English speakers who arrived after they turned 50 said that they didn't speak English well or at all, compared to 20% of those who arrived before the age of 50.

About 23% of non-English speakers who arrived after the age of 50 said that they spoke no English at all, compared to just 2.4% of those who arrived before.

But older immigrants make up a fairly small proportion of non-English speaking immigrants

Although older immigrants make up a disproportionate number of those who can’t speak English, they’re still in the minority.

25% of immigrants who can’t speak any English arrived after they turned 50.

9.3% of immigrants who can’t speak English well or at all arrived after that age.

The picture is similar in Scotland and Northern Ireland

1.4% of the Scottish population and just over 0.9% of the Northern Irish population said they couldn’t speak English well or at all

That’s slightly lower than the 1.6% of people in England and Wales who can’t do so.

In Scotland, migrants who arrived over the age of 50 were also less likely to be able to speak or write English. We haven't seen data from the Northern Irish census which shows language proficiency by age.


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