From education to employment

The Cost-of-Living Crisis – The Response of Staffordshire University

Martin Jones and David Etherington

Earlier this year, we co-authored a report with Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke- on-Trent (CASNS). This warned of a “pending poverty catastrophe” in North Staffordshire unless urgent action is taken.

The cost-of-living crisis continues to build with increases in energy prices, private house rental prices, food and transport costs and increases. This combines to form the perfect storm and constitutes the biggest cost-of-living crisis in recent memory, now added to by fiscal and monetary policy interventions creating additional uncertainty.

Here in Stoke-on-Trent, the total number of adults and children receiving food aid from the Alice Charity (Staffordshire University’s corporate charity) during 2022 to the end of August this year amounted to 3,820, up from 756 in 2019, indicating a startling rise in demand for food aid.

This picture of deprivation was partly driven by the recent removal of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, which hit areas like North Staffordshire hard. Between September 2021 and January 2022, CASNS received more than 11,500 enquiries about Universal Credit, debt and other benefits and tax credits, representing 71 per cent of total enquiries.

Levelling Up in Stoke-on-Trent

In fairness, it hasn’t all been bad news for Stoke-on-Trent. Earlier this year, the city was granted £56 million of funding through the Levelling Up Fund. Now that we have The Growth Plan, this seems a long time ago.

This includes £20 million to help bring vacant heritage buildings back into use. Another £20 million is destined for the City Centre Regeneration Area and plans include an indoor arena, hotel and apartments, which will encourage more people to want to live, work and spend their leisure time in our local area.

Then there is £16 million allocated for the redevelopment of Swift House in Stoke, which is exciting given its location close to Staffordshire University. Capital and Centric’s plans for the striking £60 million Goods Yard, next to Stoke-on-Trent Train Station, was among several projects showcased at real estate conference MIPIM. The Levelling Up Fund will be allocated to four specific elements, including dozens of high-quality apartments, office space, a hotel and water taxi stop.

Beyond Levelling Up: Cost of Living Crises

All of this is fantastic for ‘Destination Stoke’, as it could be the catalyst for inward investment. The question is whether this will bring in sustainable employment and address the high incidence of low-paid and quality jobs in the city.

Unless the Government addresses head-on the escalating cost-of-living crisis then, despite all other best intentions, more people in our city will struggle with the basics of day-to-day life. Buildings can’t provide all the foundations for Stoke-on-Trent’s everyday existence.

The Role of Higher Education

Here in Stoke-on-Trent, HE participation figures for 18-year-olds are half the national average and we fully recognise Staffordshire University’s job of being a key player in lifting- up our local area. We are the ‘catalyst for change’, a force for social good, transforming the lives of people, who will in turn transform our society and places in which they live.

In February we opened our new Catalyst building, a £43 million investment that brings together the delivery of apprenticeships and student skills to meet employer demand, in a flexible, high-quality, digitally enabled space. It is also the blueprint for our university’s ambitious campus transformation project.

Then, in March, we unveiled our state-of-the-art £5.8 million Centre for Health Innovation in Stafford. This Centre will build on our University’s reputation for digital innovation and includes sector-leading simulated learning environments, which will be used to train healthcare and social care students and help to build on the skills of NHS staff.

As well as being the study base for more than 2,000 student nurses, midwives and paramedics, the centre also offers an exciting platform for new collaborations with businesses and healthcare and technology industries.

The centre will play an important role in the future of Staffordshire University and will also be a lever to fuel the local economy by encouraging and supporting health technology start-ups, by creating jobs and by being a catalyst for economic growth in our county. It was made possible through partnership working. The centre secured £2.89 million of backing from the ‘Getting Building Fund’ through Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

Recommendation 1

The Government should increasingly recognise the ongoing and expanding civic roles of our universities. As a proudly civic university we are making strong and lasting changes for the benefit of our students, staff, businesses and the community, at the same time as fees being frozen and our costs escalating. We are fully committed to playing our part in any growth agenda by the new Government (and levelling up in old language), but more must be done from the Government and the private sector to make lasting and substantive change.

Recommendation 2

With the poverty catastrophe pending, a job retention intervention is urgently needed to replace furlough scheme-style initiatives, framed around Job Rotation, which has been successfully developed in other countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. This involves integrating skills and employment training to address skills shortages and provide pathways into sustainable employment. The potential of Job Rotation should be explored through funding being released for local pilots in the context of sector policy debates on Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs), Micro-credentials, and access to the proposed Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE).

Recommendation 3

Currently there is more funding on offer for students in England who live away from home, rather than staying locally. Removing this differentiation and allowing equality of support for students living at home, particularly in the context of the cost-of-living challenges, could be a positive outcome for building local skills infrastructures local.

By Martin Jones, Vice-Chancellor and David Etherington, Professor of Local and Regional Economic Development, Staffordshire University

This article is part of Campaign for Learning’s series: Learning in the cold: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Post-16 Education and Skills

Order of series

Day 1

Friday 21st October

  1. Louise Murphy, Economist, Resolution Foundation: The Cost-of-Living and the Energy Crisis for Households 
  2. James Kewin, Deputy Chief Executive, Sixth Form Colleges Association: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and 16-19 Year-Olds in Full-Time Further Education 

Day 2

Saturday 22nd October

  1. Becci Newton, Public Policy Research Director, Institute for Employment Studies: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and 16-18 Year-Olds in Jobs with Apprenticeships 
  2. Zach Wilson, Senior Analysis Officer and Andrea Barry, Analysis Manager, Youth Futures Foundation: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and 16-24 Year-Olds ‘Not in Full-Time Education’ 

Day 3

Monday 24th October

  1. Nick Hillman, Director, Higher Education Policy Institute: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Full-Time and Postgraduate Higher Education 
  2. Liz Marr, Pro-Vice Chancellor – Students, The Open University: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Part-Time Higher Education in England 

Day 4

Tuesday 25th October

  1. Steve Hewitt, Further Education Consultant: The Cost-of-Living Crisis: Access to HE and Foundation Year Programmes 
  2. Sophia Warren, Senior Policy Analyst, Policy in Practice: The Cost-of-Living Crisis, Universal Credit, Jobs and Skills Training 

Day 5

Wednesday 26th October

  1. Paul Bivand, Independent Labour Market Analyst: Economic Inactivity by the Over 50s, the Cost-of-Living Crisis and Adult Training 
  2. Aidan Relf, Skills Consultant: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Employer Demand for Level 2-7 Apprenticeships 

Day 6

Thursday 27th October

  1. Mandy Crawford-Lee, Chief Executive, UVAC: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Employer Demand for Level 4+ Apprenticeships and Part-Time Technical Education 
  2. Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive, WEA: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Adult Community Learning 

Day 7

Friday 28th October

  1. David Hughes, Chief Executive, AoC: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and FE Colleges 
  2. Jane Hickie, Chief Executive, AELP: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Independent Training Providers 

Day 8

Saturday 29th October

  1. Susan Pember, Policy Director, HOLEX: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Adult Education Providers 
  2. Martin Jones, Vice-Chancellor and David Etherington, Professor of Local and Regional Economic Development, Staffordshire University: The Cost-of-Living Crisis – The Response of Staffordshire University 
  3. Chris Hale, Policy Director, Universities UK: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Universities 

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