100m translation bill for migrants who can't or won't speak English
By Amy Iggulden
Last Updated: 4:04am GMT 14/12/2006
Public spending on interpreters and translation for immigrants is to be reviewed after figures revealed the yearly bill is more than 100 million.
(Photograph:Peterborough council translates its recycling literature into 15 languages.)
Police forces, councils and hospitals are each spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money on translating services that include recycling and anti-smoking advice, it emerged yesterday.
Critics said the interpretation of so much information was dividing communities by providing an excuse not to learn English. The Government yesterday ordered a review after figures showed that NHS trusts spend at least 55 million a year on translating and interpretation, the courts and police spend 31.3 million and local authorities spend 25 million a year.
The costs, obtained by the BBC, are likely to be an underestimate because not all public bodies are taken into account.
The details show how the Metropolitan Police spends 8.4 million a year, Barts and the London NHS Trust spends 1 million a year, and the Department of Work and Pensions spends 3 million on a telephone interpreting service. Overall, the interpretation market for business and the public sector is thought to be worth about 400 million and growing to reflect the increasingly diverse population, according to the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.
The increase in the courts service bill alone now 10 million a year has trebled over five years.
advertisementThe Race Relations Act says that all parts of the community should have access to services but this has not been tested. The Human Rights Act only requires translation if someone is arrested or charged with a criminal offence. However, many public bodies assume they must translate.
The examples uncovered by the BBC could prove embarrassing to Tony Blair, who last week made a high-profile speech insisting that immigrants had a “duty to integrate” including learning the national language.
Blair Gibbs, a spokesman for the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: “While ministers urge the need for greater integration they are making it easier for migrants to retain their own language while using public services, instead of learning English. This is not good for community cohesion.”
MPs also criticised the spending. Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, said: “Are people becoming accustomed to a dependency culture where they know everything they ever need is going to be translated into their mother tongue?”
Phil Woolas, the local government minister, admitted that the situation needed to be examined. He said more than 1 billion was already being spent on teaching English.
“We believe that the system may need to be rebalanced to give a greater focus on teaching English and this includes looking at the advice given from Government, public bodies and local authorities,” he said.
“Ruth Kelly has asked the Commission on Integration and Cohesion which reports next year to look at this issue.”
The head of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, Alan Wheatley, said there was a severe shortage of translators in some areas.
There are about 13,000 translators and interpreters in Britain, he said, and hourly rates vary widely. The Metropolitan Police rate, of 28 an hour, is typical.