Up to a third of people from among Britain’s biggest migrant communities cannot speak English well, official figures show, prompting concerns about the strain they are placing on the NHS and schools.
Over a quarter of those who speak Polish as their main language, the largest group other than native English speakers, said their English was either not good or non-existent.
The figure was similar for people whose principal tongue was Urdu or Gujarati, while nearly a third of native Punjabi and Bengali speakers did not have a good command of English, the 2011 census of England and Wales found.
Analysis of the data revealed that people who do not speak English are less likely to enjoy good health.
A third of those with little or no English, a total of 300,000 people, were in poor health. This group makes up over 3 per cent of the population of Leicester and two London boroughs.
The figures also illustrate the extra burden faced by schools in some parts of the country in educating children who speak other languages.
Nearly one in 20 of those aged between three and 15 in Hackney, east London, is not proficient in English, a total of 1,846 out of the 39,186 youngsters in the borough.
Outside London, the place with the highest proportion of children who do not speak English well is Boston in Lincolnshire, which has recently seen a significant influx of Eastern European migrants to work on local farms.
Paul Kenny, the mayor of Boston Borough Council, said: “I am mindful that it can put a strain on resources. About five years ago, our schools were really struggling.
“They are better equipped to deal with these issues now, but I think we’ve still got a long way to go with the issue of trying to make sure that we get more integration, and teaching English as a second language is vital.”
English was the principal language for 92 per cent of people aged three and over living in England and Wales in 2011, the census found.
The majority of those with a different main language spoke English proficiently, leaving 726,000 people with a weaker grasp of it and 138,000 who could not speak it at all.
There were 88 main languages spoken other than English, with Polish the largest group, with 546,000 speakers, of whom 72 per cent also had good English.
People from countries where English was an official language or whose native tongues were Nordic or Germanic were most likely to speak English well.
Carlos Vargas-Silva, a senior researcher at Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, said the findings would help pinpoint which local areas needed more resources to help non-English speakers.
“These people who are less proficient in English with poor health may need more services, although they may not be able to access them easily,” he said.
“It is not only about the general level of people who do or don’t speak English, it’s about where these people are.”
Dr Vargas-Silva suggested that some parts of the country were better able to cope with influxes of migrants.
He said: “London is a place with a history of migration. To a certain degree the schools are prepared to deal with this kind of issue.
“It is in places like Boston, which are not used to having migrants, that you are going to have a problem.”
This was the first time that the census had included a section about languages and English proficiency, although questions about Welsh-speaking ability have been featured since 1891.
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