Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute

Fixing the foundations: Cutting services that will help boost growth is a false economy

Brexit will be central to the UK’s first December General Election in almost a century. But there’s plenty more for all parties to focus on.

The context is a relatively weak economy. Average earnings are almost back to 2008 levels, but that means a lost decade of earnings growth compounded by cuts to working-age benefits. Economic growth is lower than pre-recession and productivity (the long-term driver of living standards) flat.

Employment is at record levels, but still much lower for groups like disabled people, while work feels insecure for many. Low economic growth means less money for public services, when most have a case for higher investment.

Taken together, this means people are more likely to be in work than a decade ago, but more likely to feel like they’re struggling to make ends meet.

Permanently weak economic growth would mean permanently limited resources for public services or an ever growing tax burden or public debt.

These challenges are only going to sharpen: longer life expectancy is making 50 year careers the norm while a constantly changing economy increases the need for people to update their skills.

They are underpinned by relatively low social mobility: your chances in life are too dependent on where you’re born.

If we don’t take action, we risk people and places feeling left behind.

There are five areas we hope political parties will focus on:

1. Minimum Wage and Good Work

LAW General Election priorities

The Conservatives have pledged to increase the minimum wage to around £10.50 per hour for everyone aged over 21 by 2024, while Labour would immediately raise it to £10 per hour for everyone aged 16 and over. Either way, the UK is headed for one of the highest minimum wages in the world relative to earnings.

To date, increases have not harmed employment and the independent Low Pay Commission remains well respected. There is a clear case for increasing the minimum wage, carefully and according to circumstance. But we also need to think how to build institutions for people and employers to work together, given the decline in unionisation is one of the factors that has weakened workers’ bargaining power.

The Labour Party has proposed a greater focus on sectoral bargaining, while the Conservatives have been consulting on changes proposed in the Taylor Review.

2. Universal Credit and Employment

Universal Credit is less generous than tax credits and the four year freeze on working-age benefits rates has contributed to the rise in poverty.

In addition, a range of concerns have been raised about the impact of the five week wait for initial payment (though advances are available as loans) and other elements such as the two child rule which means benefits are only payable for a person’s first two children in most cases.

Advertisement

We argue that benefit rates need to be raised at least in line with inflation, and that other changes like reducing the five week wait and ending the two child limit should be rapidly considered.

While employment is high, we need to do more to help inequalities in employment rates.

3. Skills and Lifelong Learning

Improvements in skills have stalled over the last decade, partly due to the 40% cut in England’s adult education budget, meaning the UK is poised to fall further down the international league tables for skills by 2030.

We need a long-term lifelong learning strategy for England (skills are devolved within the UK) backed by investment.

We showed how a £1.9bn annual investment could, over a decade, boost the economy by £20bn. We also need new ways for people to access learning, including Personal Learning Accounts.

The main parties have recognised the challenge:

We need this to be backed up by strategy and investment.

4. Workplace Skills

The apprenticeship levy, a payroll tax on large employers ringfenced in England for spending on apprenticeships, was a positive step forward. It can help tackle our historic, collective underinvestment in training and skills.

However, it risks a £1 billion overspend in England as large employers spend more than the government expected.

Employers have raised concerns about the way it is working, and its narrow focus on apprenticeships misses broader learning in the workplace. The next government needs to fix the immediate funding crunch and work with employers to explore widening the scope of the levy, focusing on productivity and social justice.

5. A Step Change in Devolution

We should look at whether Wales should have increased powers over social security, like Scotland now has. We also need a step change in devolution to combined authorities and other areas in England, building on the limited devolution of the adult education budget.

We have argued for a system of labour market agreements, modelled on the Canadian approach, setting out the services and budgets to be devolved and the outcomes (such as people into work) local areas will deliver.

But devolution must mean more than transferring services from Whitehall to the town hall. We need to find new ways to empower local communities and individuals, as Rochdale Council have done in partnership with us through their Citizens’ Curriculum.

The decision about Brexit is a fork in the road. But the General Election is also a chance to fix the fundamentals, so that we increase prosperity, tackle social injustice, and enable people to take back control of what matters most to them.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute

 

You may also be interested in these articles:

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page