Today’s 2021 Census data shows 1,040,000 adults in England and Wales say they can’t speak English well or at all. That’s 20% of all adults whose main language is not English (or Welsh in Wales), little changed on ten years ago though population growth means it’s an extra 177,000 people. 160,500 people say they can’t speak English at all, up from 137,500 in 2011. The Census also shows significant variation in English language proficiency at regional and local authority levels, with the highest numbers of residents who do not speak English well or at all in London, the North West, and the West Midlands.
In 2021/22, 123,730 adults participated in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision in England. This means it would take around 25 years to address English language learning needs in England on current trends, assuming people need on average three years of ESOL provision to improve their English language proficiency. English language skills underpin the employment prospects, integration and wellbeing of new arrivals. We need more urgent action to boost English language provision, alongside other essential skills such as literacy, numeracy and digital.