The TUC is launching today a new campaign, Save Union Learning, to persuade the government to drop proposals to end the Union Learning Fund (ULF).
Unions were told of the proposal to scrap the £12m annual fund in a letter from the Department for Education.
The TUC says it was ”stunned” to receive the letter as there had been no prior discussion or consultation on the future of the fund, it is achieving its targets, is supported by employers, and it provides a net gain to the Exchequer.
The letter arrived just days after the Prime Minister gave a speech on the importance of skills in the government’s plans to ‘build back better’ (29 September).
He promised a Lifetime Skills Guarantee, and to “give people of all ages the means and the confidence to switch and get the skills they need”.
Support for Save Union Learning
The campaign is launched with backing from employers, unions and education and training organisations.
Major employers supporting the campaign include Tesco, Heathrow, Tata Steel and Arla Foods.
The campaign has the backing of Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the RSA, who chaired the government’s Review of Modern Employment, which reported in 2017.
It is also backed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and other lifelong learning experts, including the Workers Educational Association and the Learning and Work Institute.
Union learning – a success story
The Union Learning Fund was set up in 1998 and has been supported by governments of all parties. It increases access to learning and training in workplaces, brokered by unions. In 2019-20, it supported 200,000 learners – both union members and non-members.
These learners undertake a wide range of learning and training related to work, including basic literacy and numeracy, ICT skills, ESOL, apprenticeships and traineeships, vocational training, and ongoing professional development.
Union learning gets working people into skills training they would not otherwise have access to. That’s because union learning reps are trusted by their colleagues and by employers. And all union learning is directly relevant to the workplace, tailored to workers and supported by government funding.
The Union Learning Fund is subject to regular independent evaluation. The most recent evaluation (2018) found:
- 68% of learners with no previous qualifications got a qualification
- 47% with entry or level 1 qualifications got a higher qualification
- 80% said they gained skills that could transfer to a new job
- 53% of employers saw an increase in employees gaining qualifications
- 77% said that union learning had a positive effect on their workplaces
- 68% said unions could reach and inspire reluctant learners to engage in training
Value for money:
- For every £1 spent on the Union Learning Fund:
- workers gain £7.60 through better pay
- employers gain £4.70 through higher productivity
- the Exchequer gains £3.57 from welfare savings and revenue gains
- The Union Learning Fund delivers an estimated net contribution to the economy of more than £1.4 billion as a result of a boost to jobs, wages and productivity
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said, “Union learning has helped millions of working people improve their skills and progress at work in the last 20 years.
“From basic skills and helping people learn English, to retraining for the jobs of the future, union learning transforms lives. And it’s the Heineken of adult learning – it gets to people other approaches cannot reach.
“Every year we hear from workers who couldn’t read confidently before union learning came into their life. Now they not only read their work emails, they can finally read their children a bedtime story.
“The Prime Minister has been clear on the importance of improving skills to rebuilding the economy. Union learning is a national asset and a vital plank of building back better. The Prime Minister must reject this proposal.”