Ruth Spellman reflects on the Autumn Budget

The Chancellor’s theme for this year’s Autumn Budget was building the future. Support for new technology, big infrastructure projects, housebuilding and driverless cars all featured. The Chancellor even promised “maths for everyone” though, in fact, this really meant expanding the Mastery of Maths programme in schools. It raises the question, why isn’t lifelong learning a more prominent part of the more productive and creative future the Chancellor was trying to describe?

There were some welcome details certainly - we were especially pleased to see UnionLearn secure government funding for the next two years for example. But for all the focus on skills and productivity, there was no new support for the essentials of literacy, numeracy or basic digital skills or support for adults looking to retrain or return in sectors other than construction or high tech. The National Retraining Scheme, a new partnership between Government, the TUC and the CBI has great potential - and perhaps the forthcoming Industrial Strategy White Paper will have more - but for now the options for the majority of workers and returners are quite limited.

Support for the wider impacts of lifelong learning – the sorts of impacts described in our brand new Survey – were entirely absent from the Budget. A very welcome green paper on transforming mental health services for children and young people was mentioned for example, but what of adults facing mental health challenges? How welcome it would have been to see even a small investment in community learning to help adults to improve their mental health.

A high tech and high skills future is a fine aspiration but not everyone will have the chance to be part of it if they lack the confidence, the knowledge or the community connections to find the pathway into it. Our Impact Survey shows how our students lives are enhanced and even transformed through adult learning and we hope that as the Government rolls out the detail of some of the schemes and programmes announced in the Budget that it will see a role for lifelong learning as a key component of the Industrial Strategy, the National Retraining Scheme and other “future” facing initiatives.