The pandemic and the end to freedom of movement mean that the types of jobs available to workers, and the skills in demand by employers, are shifting. Our recent publication, Learning to level up, explores the barriers some workers face to participating in training, and finds that parents on low incomes can find it particularly difficult to combine family and work responsibilities with acquiring new skills. In this context, Government should consider additional, more targeted measures of support for parents on low incomes, to provide them with the best possible chance of participating in further education.
Understanding the barriers to accessing training and development
We know there are more barriers to training for lower skilled workers compared with higher skilled peers, such as having less access to information on in-demand skills and suitable programmes; less experience with, and as a result lower confidence, in participating in training; and fewer resources to invest in training, or to buffer any foregone wages during the training period. Further, the OECD notes that investment in terms of time and financial resource may be perceived to have uncertain or limited pay off.
These obstacles can be exacerbated for people with caring and family responsibilities. Our recent work estimated that around 1.9 workers with dependent children aged under 16 would have difficulty accessing training due to such responsibilities. The cost of childcare looms large in this.
As the Covid-19 crisis has led to job losses, reductions in hours and other financial pressures, low income families may find it harder to meet the cost of childcare associated with training.
Individuals on low incomes accessing further education may apply for the Learner’s Fund through their training provider, which may include financial support for childcare costs. This can be offered in the form of a grant, a loan, or paid out directly to for example, a childcare provider. However, eligibility for funding is contingent on taking out an Advanced Learning Loan. It is therefore not clear if learners whose training is funded by the skills guarantee will be able to access this support, and this may dissuade many from participating. Parents who are in work and receive Universal Credit may be able to recoup 85% of the cost of childcare for two children. Those who are not in work cannot make use of this. Further, as we discuss in our report, there are restrictions on engaging in full-time training for individuals receiving welfare benefits like Jobseekers Allowance and Universal Credit. This may disincentivise people from participating in a course funded through the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, even though participating may help them to progress or move into (better) paid work.
Ensuring broad take-up of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee
Although avenues to secure financial support for training-related childcare costs do exist, they tend to be conditional and/or discretionary. This adds a level of risk for the individual, who cannot be guaranteed support, and if they do initially get support, they cannot be certain it will hold when their situation changes.
The Government is right to prioritise more investment and support in adult education in the years ahead. But with so much uncertainty remaining regarding the pandemic, it is important that they also ensure there is wrap-around support in place for low-income parents to access these new initiatives in the form of grants to pay for transport, learning resources and childcare costs. Otherwise we risk seeing
millions of those who could benefit most from extra learning and skills development missing out.
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