The benefits system is preventing disadvantaged young people from undertaking apprenticeships, MPs on the education select committee have been told.
Certain benefits are not available to people over 18 studying for more than 16 hours a week – although the limit for those on a traineeship is 30 hours a week, after it was raised in 2014.
Conservative MP Lucy Allan asked the panel about barriers to apprenticeships and raised the issue of looked after children who lose their housing benefit if they became apprentices, as part of the committee’s inquiry into the quality of apprenticeships and skills training. She later added: “I think it’s outrageous if it means children in care can’t do apprenticeships. We just can’t have a system that prejudices a particular group who are most in need. It’s crazy.”
Lady Andrée Deane-Barron, group education and skills director at the YMCA said she has spoken to the minister about the benefits system working against disadvantaged people. “Some of our families decide their young person can’t attend a study programme, apprenticeship or traineeship because they’re going to lose some of their benefits. If the young person has children themselves they might lose some of their child benefits too. When I have spoken to the minister she has said ‘that is a law that is not up for negotiation’ so we have tended to stop bashing against it, but it is a very real barrier.”
Lady Andrée said support with travel costs would make a big difference for apprentices in rural areas, in particular. “They are often massive areas of disadvantage. We find particularly with pre-apprenticeship programmes that it is the face to face delivery that is effective and impacts on their achievement. So to not be able to attend those sessions, even if they have the appropriate technology, tends not to give the motivation for those types of learners.”
The chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) Mark Dawe said the issue went beyond travel. “Many of the individuals have to choose between paying for the bus or eating at lunchtime and they have got childcare issues or other issues.”
He also pointed to the £60 million disadvantaged fund that was applied to the 10 per cent least well-off postcodes that got extra funding. “It was down to the individual provider to work out what support was needed.”
New funding model
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said the new funding model supports training for individuals from disadvantaged areas, by providing a cash payment to providers for training apprentices who live in the top 27 per cent of deprived areas.
Providers receive an additional £600 for training an apprentice who lives in the top 10 per cent of most deprived areas. This funding tapers off to £300 and then £200 for the next income brackets.
The spokesperson added that over the next two years, the National Apprenticeship Service is focusing on raising the value of apprenticeships undertaken in disadvantaged areas through an employer engagement campaign across 65 of the most deprived local authority areas.
They added: “Apprentices can claim financial support while completing their training, including Universal Credit or Tax Credits to help with living costs. We want to see more people from disadvantaged backgrounds starting apprenticeships and benefiting from the excellent opportunities that they can bring, including training in a wide range of jobs. That is why we provide additional cash payments for training providers who employ apprentices from disadvantaged areas.”