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9th June 2021

The Association of Colleges has published a new report calling on the government to scrap unhelpful universal credit claimant rules that have created an ‘education vs. work’ divide.

Current rules prevent people from participating in many learning or training courses if they receive unemployment benefits. This hampers progress on the government's Plan for Jobs recovery strategy, putting investment in the Lifetime Skills Guarantee out of reach to too many people. More joining up of skills and employment programmes are vital to deliver plans to ‘build back better’.

The Let Them Learn: Further Education Colleges’ Support for the Unemployed report argues that further education colleges are “supporting unemployed people in partnerships with their local Jobcentre Plus (JCP), despite the education and welfare system, not because of it.” It highlights how disconnected the education and welfare systems are. Currently, they actively discourage people from getting the skills they need to move on to meaningful employment, risking creating bigger tax burdens and slower economic growth.

Many excellent college-led initiatives across the country are supporting local unemployed people through work with job centres and skills initiatives, but these are not as widespread as they need to be. To make it work for employers, people at risk of becoming long-term unemployed and colleges, the Association of Colleges is calling for creating a system that embeds, incentivises, and invests in the role of colleges in supporting unemployed people on a national scale. They are arguing that the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill provides the chance for the government to make this commitment.

Recommendations include:

  • Reform universal credit rules so that no one is prevented from being able to access training that will help them
  • Extend the Lifetime Skills Guarantee to everyone, not just those without any existing Level 3 qualifications
  • Embed the role of colleges in supporting unemployed people in the Skills and Post-Education Bill through legislation for Local Skills Improvement Plans to include partnerships with JobCentre Plus
  • Set out a national strategy for the role of education and skills in supporting employment, through a cross-departmental taskforce with DFE, BEIS, DWP, MHCLG and provide clear progression pathways for people on current programmes like Kickstart and Restart.

Chief Executive of Association of Colleges, David Hughes said: “The very people that should be accessing the learning and preparation for work training are the ones currently being excluded from it. Those most likely to benefit would have to give up financial support to train and learn, and with no access to other maintenance support, would likely have to forgo any chances of reskilling in order to live, eat and pay bills.

“Today’s report shares clear evidence that training of this kind prepares people for getting into secure, fulfilling jobs. It is entirely counterproductive to pursue a hard-line policy of restricted training while job hunting, pitting the two against each other when one is in fact the best route to the other for many.

“We need a coherent system that spans education and welfare and works for those at risk of long-term unemployment. If we don’t we risk leaving people behind in efforts to boost sought after skills for employers and help combat the impact of the pandemic on jobs and the economy.”

Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst at Resolution Foundation, Kathleen Henehan said: “This report shows that when educators, employment support providers and employers work together, they can transform peoples’ lives. Colleges and Job Centres are at the heart of this: by offering careers advice and linking people directly with employers, the two have helped young people into Kickstart roles, onto apprenticeships and into new, rewarding careers.

“But it doesn’t just happen: these outcomes are the result of a concerted, strategic effort between partners. A clear and joined-up national strategy is needed, with serious consideration given to removing unhelpful barriers that prevent people from accessing opportunities to learn and train. I hope these case studies can become a blueprint for a national pathway forward.”

Chief Executive of Learning & Work Institute, Stephen Evans said: “The pandemic has led to increased unemployment and is likely to have accelerated structural change in the economy. This comes on top of longstanding shifts to longer working lives and changing skills needs. Together these call for an ambitious approach to learning, skills and work that meet the needs of a 21st century economy and help people into good quality jobs and careers. We need a joined-up approach to policy and delivery that sees colleges, providers and Jobcentre Plus working closely together.”