The Tories plan to cut a vital learning fund for workers

Gavin Williamson TUC
Support us and go ad-free

The Conservative Party has announced plans to cut one a key education programme for workers. Unions have warned cutting the Union Learning Fund (ULF) will limit worker opportunities.

The Department for Education (DfE) contacted unions earlier in October to announce it would no longer run the ULF. The DfE will stop the fund in March 2021.

In response, unions and employers have urged the government to reverse the decision, citing concerns that workers will be left unable to pursue qualifications. Nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition to reverse the cut.

Sean Dixon, union learning representative, and petition starter, said:

I saw first-hand the difference union learning made for hundreds of my workmates and friends. So when I heard the news that the government planned to cut the Union Learning Fund, I was devastated.

I thought of everyone I’d supported as a union learning rep and what they would have missed out on without this programme. I thought of the workers getting our country through this crisis, who deserve an opportunity to access education and learn new skills in the workplace.

It’s impossible to list all of the benefits of union learning I’ve seen, but I can honestly say it’s changed lives.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

The ULF, established in 1998, is run by Unionlearn, part of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The DfE oversees the learning the fund supports.

It is used to bring career-relevant training to workers across the UK. This training includes fundamental literacy, numeracy, and ICT skills, as well as supporting workers through apprenticeships and vocational training.

According to the TUC, the ULF was worth £12m in 2019-20, and it supported about 200,000 workers through training.

Kevin Rowan, head of learning and skills at the TUC, told The Canary:

You get the best sense of what could be lost form the stories of union learners. Every year there are more inspiring stories of people who have progressed on to new work, with new skills, more responsibility and higher pay. They tell us how union learning not only gave them skills, but confidence. And we always hear stories about people from our literacy courses who are finally able to read their kids a bedtime story. It’s heart breaking to think that these transformational experiences could come to an end.

He added:

We think that union learning could play a tremendously valuable role, with more bespoke courses to make sure that workers have positive pathways onto new work, with new skills, if their job ends up being changed longer term by the impacts of the pandemic. And it is not just us saying this.

The impact on workers

A 2018 survey of union learners found that nearly two-thirds of learners without a previous qualification gained one through union learning. It was further estimated that the ULF contributed £3.3bn to the economy over two years through increasing productivity, wages, and jobs.

A DfE spokesperson told The Canary:

We have taken the decision not to continue to provide grant funding to Unionlearn in the next financial year.

We will instead be investing the money to directly support Further Education Colleges, other training providers and our new £2.5 billion National Skills Fund to help more people learn new skills and prepare for the jobs of the future. The Prime Minister also recently announced a new ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’ offering adults without an A Level or equivalent qualification a fully-funded course.

There has been a significant decrease in adults studying for government-funded English and Maths qualifications. 573,500 adults studied for English and Maths qualifications from 2018/19, a large drop from 664,200 in 2017/18.

According to Unionlearn, 70% of learners reported that they would not have taken part in adult learning without union support.

Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland continue to support the ULF.

In our current economic crisis, it is imperative that workers have the support to gain qualifications and training. Scrapping the fund will affect workers and long-term economic recovery.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Chris McAndrew and YouTube/Trades Union Congress (TUC)

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us