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PM’s plans for skills “the right first step” but more support will be needed

Helen Barnard, Director of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation
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The Prime Minister’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, announced today (29 Sept), will be a necessary part of our response to the coming wave of unemployment, but immediate and practical support will also be needed, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The Government made a commitment in their 2019 manifesto to deliver a Right to Retrain, promising a new £2.5 billion National Skills Fund for England (£3 billion with Barnet consequentials) at the Budget in April. A consultation was promised in the Spring and further details at the CSR, but so far nothing has been forthcoming.

 

JRF has been calling for a temporary and targeted furlough scheme to support sectors which are reliant on close contact arguing it is essential to prevent a surge in unemployment as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is unwound at the end of October.

 

A Pre-Vaccine Jobs Risk Index produced for JRF showed that sectors such as hospitality, retail and beauty, which rely on close contact with members of the public but are not within the sphere of health, care or essential services are likely to be hit hardest by coronavirus until a vaccine is found. Around 40% of employees on the minimum wage face a high or very high risk of having their job destroyed by COVID-19 compared to less than 1% of those earning more than £41,500 per year. 

 

To keep families afloat, JRF has also been calling on the Government to do the right thing and keep the lifeline in the form of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit has been a lifeline for many families as they’ve struggled to get through the coronavirus storm – currently due to end in April 2021.

An ambitious plan is needed to deliver a good jobs recovery and the ‘Right to Retrain’ manifesto commitment to support workers’ transition into new opportunities.

JRF has been recommending:

  1. Deliver a new generation of good jobs by resolving the funding of adult social care to unlock more than 600,000 jobs by 2035; bringing forward £9.2 billion of investment for energy efficiency improvements; and reducing Employer National Insurance Contributions to stimulate private-sector employment.

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  2. Delivering the ‘Right to Retrain’ commitment to support people to transition into new good jobs by creating a ‘New Deal for Adult Education’ worth £7 billion and delivering targeted employment support for those struggling to stay afloat.

  3. Take urgent action to prevent long-term unemployment by allowing furloughed workers who lose their jobs to access employment and training support immediately and introduce a Hiring Credit worth £3,000 for firms taking on people who have been out of work for more than 12 months.

  4. Provide additional support to level up the weakest economies with an ambitious UK Shared Prosperity Fund worth £14 billion.

“The coming wave of unemployment will require bold action and enabling people to access training is a hugely important part of that. The Conservative manifesto pledged an ambitious Right to Retrain and JRF has been calling on the Government to implement that promise –  today’s announcement is an important first step towards doing that.

“Today’s announcement should be the beginning of a more joined up system of life-long learning, which needs to include further investment in basic skills provision. As well as offering training itself, people need to be able to access it, and this means being able to access childcare, and targeted support must be available for areas with weaker economies and fewer jobs.

“We are approaching a winter of joblessness and people whose jobs are being deemed non-viable also need urgent support to avoid being pulled into poverty. If people who are out of work are facing a long wait to retrain then we need to ensure that they and their families have a lifeline – the government must extend the £20 uplift in Universal Credit and offer it to people claiming legacy benefits too.

“This is the right starting point for the Government but more urgent support is needed to make work a reliable route out of poverty and to help the worst off to face the coming storm.”

Helen Barnard, Director of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation

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