'Second-class citizens': apprentices denied thousands in financial support

Disadvantaged apprentices are missing out on thousands of pounds in support available to students, new NUS research reveals

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Apprentices are being treated like “second-class citizens”, with those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds being denied thousands of pounds of financial support available for college and university students, according to the NUS students’ union.

Research by the NUS and TES has revealed that while some apprentices currently earn as little as £3.40 an hour, they are also excluded from a number of means of support available to counterparts in FE institutions.

A college student with one child could be eligible for more than £10,000 a year in financial support, and their families could receive thousands more.

But apprentices – including those on the minimum wage, earning as little as £7,000 a year – are not entitled to any of this.

As well as not being eligible for Care to Learn childcare grants, some apprentices also miss out on travel discounts, council tax exemptions and student bank account packages.

The NUS warned that the risk of losing out financially could deter the most disadvantaged young people from becoming apprentices.

Shakira Martin, NUS vice-president for FE, said the idea that apprenticeships were a desirable way to “earn while you learn” was “far from the truth”. The 10p rise in the apprentice minimum wage to £3.50 per hour, being introduced in April, is welcome but “still not good enough”, she added.

“Apprentices are treated like second-class citizens, as workers and as learners. Financial support like Care to Learn [for apprentice parents], and Child Tax Credits for parents of apprentices, is not available,” Ms Martin said.

“If apprenticeships are going to be the silver bullet to create a high-skilled economy for the future, the government has to go further than rhetoric and genuinely support apprentices financially to succeed.”

Families suffer

Apprenticeships are not classed as “approved education or training” by the Department for Work and Pensions. This means that in the case of apprentices who live with their parents, the families could lose out on as much as £1,066 per year in Child Benefit; families receiving Universal Credit could lose more than £3,200. Unlike FE students, apprentices aren’t eligible for Care to Learn childcare grants.

Euan Blair, CEO of training provider WhiteHat, said: “If we want apprenticeships to be seen as a top-tier option, then the benefits should be top tier, too. University students receive assistance from a range of sources, from accessing finance to discounted rates on council tax. Apprentices currently don’t receive many of these benefits and the system must be changed so that both are treated equally.”

A Department for Education spokesman said apprenticeships were “real jobs with training”, and that according to the most recent survey, the median pay for apprentices at levels 2 and 3 was £6.70 per hour.

This is an edited version of an article in the 10 February edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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