If you need to claim welfare benefits but the only language you speak is Nigerian Pidgin, you are in luck.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can deal with claimants in 165 languages, providing translators at taxpayers’ expense.
Among the languages it offers is Pidgin, a variant of English which is the native tongue of an estimated 2 per cent of Nigeria’s population.
A Pidgin-speaker who told Jobcentre staff “I wan go job but I no well” would have his words translated, using the publicly-funded service, as “I would like to work but I am sick.”
Overall the DWP used interpreters 271,695 times in 12 months in meetings and telephone calls, according to official documents.
But while there were more than 50,000 translations into Polish and 22,000 into Czech and Slovak, there was lower demand for other services.
Translation was required once each for French Canadian and Icelandic. Not a single person used the service provided for Basque, Catalan, Tongan—or Nigerian Pidgin.
Languages used on more than 1,000 occasions included Italian, Vietnamese, and the Ethiopian tongues of Tigrinya and Amharic, according to the figures for October 2010 to September last year.
On three occasions, translators were provided to help Welsh speakers in England. At DWP offices in Wales, Welsh is spoken as a matter of course.
Interpretation is contracted out to private providers. The DWP said one company, the Big Word Interpreting Service Limited, received £3.5 million of public money in the 12 months to the end of January.
Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of MigrationWatch, said: “This is the height of absurdity. It is essential that when migrants come to this country they learn to speak English.”
Jonathan Isaby, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “People expect the DWP to use their resources on helping those genuinely in need, not on language services. Anyone who has chosen to live in Britain should be making an effort to learn to speak English.”
The DWP, which provided the figures under the Freedom of Information Act, said they should be put in the context of more than 15 million people claiming pensions or benefits, or using Jobcentre Plus.
A spokesman said: “The cost of interpreting and translation is attributable to the economic downturn and subsequent increase in the number of customers using DWP services.”
The department said it had introduced new contracts and expected spending on interpreting to fall by 30 per cent.
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