Hundreds of thousands of people have abandoned plans to study subjects from health to information technology following cuts to adult education.
A breakdown by the Learning and Skills Council of more than 1.5 million adult learning places lost since 2005 undermines claims from ministers that the change in funding priorities would mainly hit leisure courses. The greatest loss was in health, public services and care, where numbers fell by 477,000. Enrolment for computing courses fell by more than half - numbers dropped by 394,000. A further 248,000 places were lost in preparation for life and work courses, which offer basic skills for employment for people with low or no qualifications.
Defending the change in priorities in 2006, the then education secretary Alan Johnson said: "We must rebalance taxpayers' money towards the subjects where there is greatest need - so more plumbing, less pilates; subsidised precision engineering, not over-subsidised flower arranging, except of course where flower arranging is necessary for a vocational purpose.
"T'ai chi may be hugely valuable to people studying it, but it's of little value to the economy. There must be a fairer apportionment between those who gain from education and those who pay for it - state, employer or individual."
Subjects such as pilates or t'ai chi tend to fall under the "unspecified subject sector area", which accounts for 148,000 lost places and which virtually disappeared in the cuts.
This coincides with the launch of a campaign to preserve adult education, with the support of 28 organisations, including the University and College Union and the National Union of Students
Alistair Thomson, senior policy officer at Niace, the adult education organisation and one of the campaign's founding bodies, said the Government should look again at its funding priorities given the subjects that were affected
"Ministers may not have realised the richness of what has been lost," he said, "and they may need to look a bit deeper. "If you're only going to fund something you can measure against public-service agreement targets then you lose a lot in the process."
Short courses bore the brunt of the cuts, with the loss of more than a million places, more than half the total. Another area badly hit was courses aimed at students with qualifications below level two which are intended to help them get back into education. These lost more than 600,000 places.
Bill Rammell, the further and higher education minister, said: "Funding has been rightly realigned to give people the opportunity to gain the skills they need to get a job and get on at work."
He said courses such as health and safety were teaching skills that employers should provide.
"This is a planned and continuing strategy which is working," said Mr Rammell. "We have seen increasing numbers of adults gaining basic literacy, and numeracy, level two and level three courses, and gaining the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive economy."