Major parties make lifelong learning pledges

Proposals to woo voters include a £10,000 “skills wallet” under the Lib Dems and Labour’s commitment to a national education service.

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As the General Election approaches, three of the UK’s main parties have announced their plans to boost adult education.

The Liberal Democrats have pledged a £10,000 grant for every adult in England to help cover the costs of education or training undertaken after the school-leaving age, starting from 2021.

Under a Lib Dem government, the “skills wallet” would be offered to adult learners in instalments over a 30-year period, with £4,000 available to 25-year-olds, £3,000 available to 40-year-olds and another £3,000 made available to those over the age of 55.

As education is a devolved issue, the policy would not apply to the rest of the UK.

The Lib Dems have said that people can choose how and when to spend this money on a “range” of courses – but only those from regulated providers and that are monitored by the Office for Students. The skills wallet would be paid for, they claim, by reversing the current Conservative government’s cuts to corporation tax, returning the business levy to its 2016 rate of 20 per cent.

Sam Gymiah, the party’s spokesperson for business, suggested that access to the skills wallet policy could help people adapt to “ever-changing” workplaces, upskilling them alongside the rollout of “new technologies”, while also offering them the chance to improve their promotion prospects, or even change their careers entirely.

The Labour Party has also announced its own adult skills pledge should it win the election in December – to invest an additional £3bn a year to provide free access to various academic and vocational courses for up to 300,000 eligible people in England.

A Labour government, according to the party’s Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner, would entitle adults to up to six years of free training, including, for example, professional certificates in the healthcare or engineering sectors, or adults wanting to go back to college to get their A-levels.   

Discussing Labour’s plans to launch a “national education service” which would provide “cradle-to-the-grave learning”, Rayner told BBC Radio 4 this week that she wanted to “change the culture” so that learning became “part of everyday life”, rather than something that is only done “at a particular point”.

The Conservative Party, meanwhile, has expanded its National Retraining Scheme – a government-funded service to help adults whose jobs are at risk of being replaced by automated technologies to gain new qualifications – to six combined authorities. 

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman