Background for the Creating Opportunities Manifesto 2022
Support for essential skills should be a core part of any future funding system. The Department for Education has pledged to simplify the funding system by introducing a single fund which, will bring together several current streams. However, it is not clear how funding for essential skills courses will be handled in the new system.

The reformed system will be further complicated by the devolution of some adult education budgets to new local and regional authorities. At the same time, the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund will support some
skills funding.

It is crucial that as these reforms are rolled out support for essential skills is not disrupted or diminished. Providers should be clear where funding support for their most disadvantaged learners can be found.

1. The total amount of funding available for essential skills should not fall below 2021/22 levels and should return to 2010 levels by 2030

Even taking into account the additional funding announced in the 2021 Spending Review, the Institute
for Fiscal Studies estimates that by 2024–25, spending on adult education will be one-third below 2009–10
levels.

It is vital that the level of funding is not allowed to fall further in coming years and that government should
seek to return levels of spending to 2010 levels if possible.

2. Financial barriers to essential skills courses should be removed especially for those on Universal Credit and low incomes

25% of people who have not participated in learning in the last three years cite cost as a barrier (Learning
& Work Institute Participation Survey 2021).

The most disadvantaged learners could be helped by amending Universal Credit rules so that people who wish to take up training are not penalised by loss of benefits. People earning just above the Minimum Wage may not be eligible to have the costs of essential GCSE courses covered. Raising the threshold even slightly would help more learners on to fully supported courses.

3. Providers and employers should work together on Local Skills Plans to address essential skills deficits

Reforms in the current Skills Bill place a new duty on providers to show how they are meeting “local need”. Local employer groups are being asked to draw up Local Skills Improvement Plans. Employers and providers should be supported to develop new collaborative plans to address local skills needs, including essential skills such as literacy, numeracy and digital skills.

4. Government should invest in national campaigns to increase participation, encouraging everyone to gain essential skills

According to the most recent Learning & Work Institute Participation Survey, “only four in ten
adults are aware that free basic skills courses are available, falling to 33 per cent of those who left education at age 16”.

We would like to see Government invest in awareness campaigns to increase participation, especially in the most disadvantaged communities.