Learning cash to be for all

10th September 1999 at 01:00
Ministers are set to create individual learning accounts for all young people in an effort to turn their learning society rhetoric into reality.

It is part of Education Secretary David Blunkett's efforts to grab a large chunk of Labour's pre-election war chest for education.

Instead of cutting taxes, the Government would pay hundreds of pounds each year into accounts until the age of 18.

The account would be unlocked by a contribution from the individual or their parents of 10-20 per cent of the total. It could then be spent on government approved education and training.

As well as encouraging learning, the scheme would redistribute money from the wealthy to the poor. Mr Blunkett is known to be concerned that young people from low-income families are being held back from continuing to learn. Government contributions are likely to be larger for those from poorer backgrounds but to ensure middle-class support for the proposal, all young people will get some public money.

It has been estimated that accounts could be worth up to pound;10,000 to disadvantaged young people, although this is believed to be over-optimistic.

Mr Blunkett has drawn his inspiration from the United States where the idea has been championed by Robert Reich, President Bill Clinton's former Labour Secretary. He has suggested that pound;50,000 could be given to each young person when they reach 21. It is a rare chance for Mr Blunkett to show his socialist roots by redistributing wealth.

Discussions are currently taking place with the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, about the plan. Mr Blunkett hopes that the emphasis on saving and individual contributions will help convince the Treasury, which has introduced individual accounts for savers.

Approval would signal a huge expansion of ILAs, which are currently restricted to a million people who are out of work or on low incomes. These accounts attract a Government contribution of pound;150 as long as the individual puts in at least pound;25, and go nationwide next year.

The plans would provide a huge boost to the University for Industry, and colleges which would provide many of the courses. They would also help lessen the impact of the introduction of tuition fees on undergraduates and universities.

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