Basic skills just a phone call away
Reading, writing and maths are being targeted in the initiative, jointly announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair and Education Secretary David Blunkett.
The initiative guarantees basic mumeracy and literacy training to "all who need it" if they call learndirect on 0800 100 900.
A network of 2,000 learning centres will be established at colleges, work places and schools to provide courses.
In addition, businesses will get special funding, including grants to cover National Insurance payments for low-skilled workrs.
A new university centre will also be created to research and develop the best ways to teach basic skills.
And there will be new measures to improve numeracy and literacy among public-sector workers.
The Department for Education and Employment described the investment as "the biggest ever national drive to tackle poor reading and maths skills".
"Funding will be increased by 55 per cent, with at least pound;1.5 billion over the next three years, comprising pound;1.1 billion of funding announced last year, together with up to pound;650 million of the Welfare to Work budget and most of the pound;173 million we announced last month for prison education."