Conditionality requirements that people who receive Universal Credit (UC) must comply with can significantly limit their availability to engage with training, due to job search activity they are required to complete each week. These obligations also interact with a range of personal circumstances that people on UC will hold, such as childcare or caring responsibilities, which again can create barriers to training and development activity.
Through qualitative interviews with people who are interested in training and also in receipt of UC, this research sought to explore how the welfare system impacts on access to training opportunities.
Universal Credit requirements impairs training possibilities
Some of the people we spoke to faced a requirement to conduct job search activity for 35 hours a week. This impacted on their ability to undertake training, and resulted in being unable to attend parts of courses they were already engaged in.
For people with caring responsibilities or part-time jobs, it was especially difficult to fit training courses around these commitments. Those with mental and physical health conditions also found it difficult to take part in training while completing their work search activity.
Transactional relationships with Work Coaches limit support to build new skills
People on UC often struggled to build a supportive relationship with their Work Coach. Often people experienced a change in the Work Coach they reported to and struggled to establish a trusting relationship.
Also, too often, people on UC needed to research training opportunities and eligibility independently. Work Coaches were often unaware of key skills initiatives available.
Parents are struggling to take up training opportunities without access to affordable and flexible childcare
Nine of the 16 people interviewed were mothers with children and a key theme that emerged through their interviews was that a lack of affordable childcare made it difficult or impossible for some people to access training courses, especially where they had conditionality and part-time work to balance, leading to a case of someone not being able to attend a training course that was paid for.
The Department for Work and Pensions should:
- Allow anyone receiving benefits to study part or full-time for at least one year, with the potential to extend. Conditionality requirements should be adjusted to account for time spent studying to allow students to fully benefit from taking part.
- Provide clear information about the ways people can study while getting UC, as well as funding available to help cover course fees and other costs associated with taking part in training.
- Create opportunities for people on UC to discuss and explore any interests in accessing training with their Work Coach at any point throughout their claim. This should trigger a training-focused meeting and potentially signposting to the National Careers Service. Work coaches should agree and document any training goals.
- Work with DfE to ensure Work Coaches have up-to-date knowledge of local skills ecosystems, labour market demand and training opportunities, including Government skills initiatives, by establishing a specialised group of career developers who would engage with and build relationships with local stakeholders and share their knowledge with Work Coaches through CPD sessions and high-quality advice.
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