A "social justice tax credit" should be introduced for employers that invest in lifelong learning, according to Robert Halfon – and an adult and community learning centre should be set up in every town in the country.
The chair of the Commons Education Select Committee spoke out this morning about the "glaring social injustice" caused by poor access to lifelong learning, and said that millions of workers were trapped in low-paid employment that threatened to put them on the jobs scrapheap in a fast-changing labour market.
In a bid to tackle this, he also called for a community learning centre in every town, and tuition fee support for disadvantaged part-time students.
The MP was speaking at the Centre for Social Justice thinktank and used the speech to launch the education committee's inquiry into lifelong learning.
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Mr Halfon warned of an “enormous wave of lost opportunity about to come crashing down on the next generation of employees” – and said that it was a scandal that lifelong learning is out of reach for millions of disadvantaged people in society.
“Lifelong learning, it seems, is a more affluent person’s game. Those who might benefit most from adult learning and training – low skilled people in low-income or no job – are by far the least likely to be doing it,” he said.
He said to address the concerns, three guarantees were needed.
Adult community learning guarantee
- Put an adult community learning centre in every town in the country.
- Top-slice the existing £60 million support fund for apprenticeships and use this to support organisations like Workers’ Education Association (WEA).
Part-time higher education guarantee
- Reinstate tuition fee support for the most disadvantaged learners who do courses that are likely to command a return in the jobs market.
- Demand that more of the £817 million per year that’s spent on outreach is directed to part-time learning.
- Restructure the existing tax reliefs that are available to employers who invest in training, so that they receive more generous relief when investing in low-skilled employees.
- Introduce a social justice tax credit, which would expand the number of employers who benefit from tax breaks when they invest in training for low-skilled workers in areas of skills need.
Halfon also used the opportunity to warn about the lack of attention further education receives from the politicians, local communities and celebrities.
“It doesn’t matter if we have the best policies on this, our biggest problem as a country is that we don’t evangelise about apprenticeships, about skills, about lifelong learning, about adult education.
“It should come from the prime minister downwards, not just from policy makers, but from community figures, from celebrities. So many people just do not know there is are opportunities we need to build up the prestige of the alternative to university route, build up prestige of apprenticeships, build up prestige about lifelong learning.
“We can have the best policy in the world but they will not succeed unless everyday policy makers are talking about these areas," he said.
The inquiry is now inviting submissions to address the following six questions:
What are the benefits of adult skills and lifelong learning (ASALL) for productivity and upskilling the workforce?
What are the benefits of ASALL for social justice, health and well-being?
What role can local authorities/combined authority areas play in ASALL provision?
To what extent is the range, balance and quality of formal and informal ASALL education adequate?
Who currently participates in and benefits from lifelong learning?
What lessons can the UK learn from abroad?
The deadline for responses is Thursday 15 August.