1.3 percent of the population in England and Wales whose main language was not English (or Welsh in Wales), could not speak English well, and 0.3 percent not at all. In Scotland the figures were 1.2 percent and 0.2 percent respectively, and in Northern Ireland 0.7 percent and 0.2 percent.
There is a clear correlation in the labour market between proficiency in English and the employment rate. For male non-native speakers of English who judge themselves not proficient, the unemployment rate is 1.3 percent higher than for those who claim to be proficient. For women, the difference is 4.8 percent. However, the economic inactivity rate is much higher for non-proficient women, 59.5 percent, than for men who are not proficient, 24.3 percent. This may reflect a cultural difference, as in some patriarchal cultures, women’s education can be limited.
So large is the perceived importance of speaking and learning English, that 84 percent of adults in Great Britain supported the UK government’s proposal to cut benefits for people unable to speak English who were not taking classes. Amongst Conservative and UKIP supporters, the amount in favour reached 95 and 94 percent respectively.
At the same time though, waiting lists for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) increased, and according to the centres that run these state-approved, government-funded courses, the main reason for this was a lack of funding. In 2012/2013 the ESOL budget was reduced by just under a half since 2008/2009.