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More benefits claimants are enrolling on FE courses, figures show

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The number of benefits claimants starting further education training courses has increased in the past academic year, according to new figures.

Official statistics published today by the Departments for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) show that 666,700 claimants embarked on FE training in 2013-14 – up 3.2 per cent on the previous year.

The number of learning aims (individual courses) started by claimants rose by 8.8 per cent to 1,680,800. This is the third year in a row in which both sets of figures have grown.

However, the statistics also reveal a 1.3 per cent drop in the number of benefits claimants aged 19-24 starting FE training.

The report says that recent changes in economic conditions have resulted in a higher volume of benefits claimants – and skills provision that has changed in response. Alterations to the structure of the benefits system  have also affected the figures, it explains.

The study says that DWP and BIS have worked to improve how the skills and employment systems work together to identify and address the skills barriers faced by unemployed people.

“This continued emphasis on better local partnership working between Jobcentres, employers and skills providers is likely to have helped sustain a continuation of the rising trend in numbers…undertaking learning while on benefit,” it says.

Tom Stannard, deputy chief executive of adult learning body Niace, said the growth was “encouraging” because training was “critical” to the future of people on benefits.

“Returning to learning as an adult will build the confidence they need to start or restart their careers,” he added. “We know that once people start they can thrive and achieve beyond what they ever thought was possible, delivering substantial socio-economic benefits."

However, Mr Stannard said Niace was concerned that continued “significant” cuts to FE provision, including those announced yesterday, would result in fewer learning opportunities.

“This surely contradicts the long-term economic plan and will make the government's noble ambition of full employment so much harder to achieve,” he added.

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