Harlow MP Robert Halfon sets out his vision for lifelong learning

POOR access to lifelong learning is a glaring social injustice trapping millions of workers in low paid employment and threatening to put them on the jobs scrapheap in a fast changing labour market, said Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow and Chair of the Education Select Committee.

Warning of an “enormous wave of lost opportunity about to come crashing down on the next generation of employees”, Mr Halfon said it was a scandal that lifelong learning, including adapting new workplace skills, was out of reach for the millions already most disadvantaged in society.

He told the Centre for Social Justice today (Weds 10 July): “Lifelong learning is a more affluent person’s game. Those who might benefit most from adult learning and training – low-skilled people in low-income work or the unemployed – are by far the least likely to be doing it.”

Half of all adults from the lowest socio-economic groups had received o education or training since they left school, said Mr Halfon.
“Adult learning should be a lifeline for the shocking number of those who left school ill-equipped to grapple with the rough and tumble of the jobs market… around nine million working adults in England have low literacy and/or numeracy skills. Yet in the last ten years just 17 per cent of low paid workers have moved permanently out of low pay.”

Announcing an Education Select Committee inquiry into the current state of adult learning in the UK, Mr Halfon said the country UK lagged behind other wealthy nations in spending on lifelong education. The crisis would worsen in an increasingly automated workplace without drastic steps to “offer disadvantaged workers and the unemployed a way back from a poor start in life”, he added.

He said it was essential measures were taken across three fronts both to extend the ladder of opportunity for the low paid and disadvantaged and to skill up the UK’s workforce in readiness for rapidly changing technologies.

Starting at the grassroots Mr Halfon called for a massive growth in the number of adult community learning centres with their expansion ensuring that there was one in every town. Skills taught, often free of charge, should include basic numeracy, literacy digital skills, parenting and mental health support.

This should be accompanied by move to “nurse part-time higher education back to full health” in the face of rapidly dwindling numbers – with fee support for previously disadvantaged learners taking courses likely to command a decent return in the jobs market.

To ensure a greater contribution from employers, Mr Halfon proposed increasing tax incentives both through Corporation Tax and through putting social justice at the core of tax credits by ensuring increased benefits for employers investing in training people with lower skill levels.

“Only by recognising this crisis and taking urgent actions to reverse it can the UK avoid today’s divisions multiplying because those with most to gain from lifelong learning continue to be the ones with the least access to it, said Mr Halfon.

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