Tens of thousands of Muslim women unable to speak English are to be given the chance to learn the language in a new government drive to build community integration and counter extremism.
Launching a £20m language fund, David Cameron called for an end to the “passive tolerance” of separate communities which left many Muslim women facing discrimination and social isolation.
The prime minister said he would not avoid telling the “hard truths” required to confront the minority of Muslim men whose “backward attitudes” led them to exert “damaging control” over women in their families.
“All too often, because of what I would call ‘passive tolerance’, people subscribe to the flawed idea of separate development,” he wrote in the Times.
“It is time to change our approach. We will never truly build One Nation unless we are more assertive about our liberal values, more clear about the expectations we place on those who come to live here and build our country together and more creative and generous in the work we do to break down barriers.”
The government estimates that there are 190,000 Muslim women in England who speak little or no English.
The new English language scheme will be aimed at reaching the most isolated women and will be targeted to specific communities based on the ongoing review into segregation being carried out by Louise Casey, the head of the government’s troubled families unit.
Classes will be held in homes, schools and community centres with travel and childcare costs provided to encourage the maximum participation.
Cameron said that all public services – including, nurseries, schools, health visitors and job centres – needed to play a party in tacking “prejudice and bigotry” and building integration.
He said that in Britain, men were “not frightened of women’s success” but celebrated it proudly.
The plan however, came under attack by some who criticized Cameron for targeting the Muslim community and not other groups who struggle with integration.
Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham called the measure “clumsy and simplistic”.
“In his desire to grab easy headlines, David Cameron risks doing more harm than good. His clumsy and simplistic approach to challenging extremism is unfairly stigmatising a whole community. There is a real danger that it could end up driving further radicalisation, rather than tackling it”, Burnham said.
“The Prime Minister is right to talk about empowering women but his emphasis should be on women of all faiths and none. His commitment to English classes is welcome but people will ask why his Government has spent the last few years cutting funding from these vital courses.
“Tackling extremism is the greatest challenge of our age. We are willing to work with the Government to get it right. But it is a deep-rooted and complex problem and requires a more sophisticated approach than we have seen to date and a stronger sense of partnership with the Muslim community”, he added.
The latest move comes amid continued concern about the numbers of Britons attempting to travel to Syria to join Islamic State.
Foreign secretary Philip Hammonddisclosed last week that 600 Britons had been caught trying to reach Syria to fight with IS or other jihadist groups in the country’s bloody civil war since 2012.
The number comes on top of the estimated 800 Britons who have succeeded in entering Syria since the start of the conflict of whom around half thought to have since returned to the UK.
Hammond, who was on a visit Turkey, highlighted how improved co-operation between the British and Turkish authorities meant they were intercepting growing numbers – some as they left the UK and others as they arrived in Istanbul – a key staging point on the route to Syria.
Cameron is likely to stress the need for continued co-operation in talks with Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu.