"Translation services are vitally important to help communicate", said DWP spokeperson 19 December 2008. Translation costs for helping non-English-speaking benefit claimants have soared by 42 per cent over the past four years, it was revealed last night.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) bill has rocketed from £2.5million in 2003/04 to £4million in the last full financial year, according to statistics released to MPs.
The Daily Express reports that the high figure implies that thousands of people with little grasp of the English language are pocketing welfare benefits.
Now the department has admitted employment levels of ethnic minority groups are “unacceptably low”.
The figures contradict Gordon Brown’s call for everyone living in Britain to be able to speak English.
The Conservatives’ Shadow Work and Pensions spokesman Chris Grayling said: “Gordon Brown has tried to sound tough by saying people who come to Britain should learn English.
“But instead we find that ministers are spending more and more money on translation services. The Government should quit its obsession with headlines and take some real action instead.”
Leaflets are available from benefit offices in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Gujarati, Punjabi, Somali, Urdu, Vietnamese and Welsh. They are also in east European languages following the influx of immigrants from ex-communist countries.
Recent figures showed that the employment rate among ethnic minorities was 14 per cent lower than among the population as a whole.
DWP research papers suggest that poor grasp of English is a serious barrier to employment among Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in the UK.
A department spokesman said: “Translation services are vitally important to help communicate with our 2million-plus customers and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the support we give them.
Last year the Prime Minister told MPs: “If someone comes to our country and is applying for citizenship or permanent residence they have also got to accept responsibilities.
“You should be able to speak the English language, you should be able to understand and speak about British cultural traditions.”