Skills: Government 'must scrap universal credit rules'

Unemployment benefit rules stop people from participating in learning and training, warns the Association of Colleges

Kate Parker

Skills and training: Scrap damaging universal credit rules that stop unemployed people from learning, says the Association of Colleges

The government must scrap universal credit rules that prevent people from participating in learning and training, the Association of Colleges has said. 

In a report published today, Let Them Learn: Further education colleges’ support for the unemployed , the AoC says the rules are creating an “education versus work” divide, hampering the progress of the government’s Plan for Jobs recovery strategy and putting the Lifetime Skills Guarantee “out of reach” for too many people. 

Currently, people who receive unemployment benefits have these removed if they participate in full-time learning or training courses.

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David Hughes, chief executive of the AoC, said the very people who should be accessing the learning and preparation for work training are the ones currently being excluded from it. 

“Those most likely to benefit would have to give up financial support to train and learn, and with no access to other maintenance support, would likely have to forgo any chances of reskilling in order to live, eat and pay bills," he said.

Universal credit rules 'stop people from getting skills training'

 ”Today’s report shares clear evidence that training of this kind prepares people for getting into secure, fulfilling jobs. It is entirely counterproductive to pursue a hardline policy of restricted training while job hunting, pitting the two against each other when one is, in fact, the best route to the other for many.   

“We need a coherent system that spans education and welfare and works for those at risk of long-term unemployment. If we don’t, we risk leaving people behind in efforts to boost sought-after skills for employers and help combat the impact of the pandemic on jobs and the economy.”  

The report argues that FE colleges are “supporting unemployed people in partnerships with their local Jobcentre Plus (JCP), despite the education and welfare system, not because of it” – and highlights a disconnect between these two systems. 

It says that currently the system actively discourages people from getting the skills they need to move on to meaningful employment, risking creating bigger tax burdens and slower economic growth.  

The AoC argues for a system that embeds, incentivises and invests in the role of colleges in supporting unemployed people on a national scale. It says that the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill provides the chance for the government to make this commitment.   

The report sets out several recommendations including: 

  • Reform universal credit rules so that no one is prevented from being able to access training that will help them .
  • Extend the Lifetime Skills Guarantee to everyone, not just those without any existing level 3 qualifications.
  • Embed the role of colleges in supporting unemployed people in the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill through legislation for Local Skills Improvement Plans to include partnerships with JobCentre Plus . 
  • Set out a national strategy for the role of education and skills in supporting employment, through a cross-departmental taskforce with the Department for Education, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Department for Work and Pensions, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and provide clear progression pathways for people on current programmes like Kickstart and Restart.   

'A clear and joined-up national strategy is needed'

Kathleen Henehan, senior researcher and policy analyst at Resolution Foundation, said:  “This report shows that when educators, employment support providers and employers work together, they can transform people’s lives. Colleges and job centres are at the heart of this: by offering careers advice and linking people directly with employers, the two have helped young people into Kickstart roles, on to apprenticeships and into new, rewarding careers.   

”But it doesn’t just happen: these outcomes are the result of a concerted, strategic effort between partners. A clear and joined-up national strategy is needed, with serious consideration given to removing unhelpful barriers that prevent people from accessing opportunities to learn and train. I hope these case studies can become a blueprint for a national pathway forward.”  

Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute, said:  “The pandemic has led to increased unemployment and is likely to have accelerated structural change in the economy. This comes on top of longstanding shifts to longer working lives and changing skills needs. Together these call for an ambitious approach to learning, skills and work that meet the needs of a 21st-century economy and helps people into good quality jobs and careers. We need a joined-up approach to policy and delivery that sees colleges, providers and Jobcentre Plus working closely together.” 

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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