The government’s education select committee heard this month that the threat of losing welfare payments could be preventing some young people from taking up apprenticeships.
Certain benefits are not available to people over 18 studying for more than 16 hours a week – although the limit for those on a traineeship is 30 hours a week, after it was raised in 2014 – which could mean taking an apprenticeship puts a stop on welfare payments.
Conservative MP Lucy Allan asked MPs on the committee about barriers to apprenticeships and raised the issue of children in care who lose their housing benefit if they became apprentices.
She described the situation as “outrageous” and “crazy”, imploring the committee consider the fact that we have a system that prejudices a particular group who are most in need.
Lady Andrée Deane-Barron, group education and skills director at the YMCA has raised concerns about this too, reporting that many families decide their young person can not take up apprenticeships or traineeships because it will mean losing some of their benefits.
She also raised concerns about young people who have children themselves who might lose child benefit if they take up an apprenticeship, describing this as a “very real barrier” to those who might want to take up a programme but still need support for their dependents.
Lady Andrée said support with travel costs would be a big help for apprentices in rural areas, in particular.
The chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), Mark Dawe, said the issue was deeper than just affording travel to and from an apprentice job. He reported this week that many have to choose between paying for the bus or eating at lunchtime, as well as having childcare issues.
Even for young people coming from a traditional family home, there are many financial barriers to taking up an apprenticeship, especially if it’s a position in another town, city or region and they need to rent accommodation.
AllAboutGroup’s research last year showed that 12% of parents/guardians say they could not support their children at all if they had to relocate for an apprenticeship. 67% said it would depend on the scale of the cost, but the amounts they were able to offer varied.
£50-£100 per month was deemed an acceptable level of financial support by 29% of parents/guardians and 25% of parents would give £101-£200 a month.
The average UK rent is now £908 per month (£1,524 in London)*, meaning that for Level 2 and 3 apprentices on an average weekly wage of @261.75** it is barely manageable to rent outside of London and impossible to rent in London, without parental support. For Level 4 and 5 apprentices on an average weekly wage of £405**, renting outside of London should be comfortable but renting in the capital is barely manageable.
Without parental financial support, it is impossible for most school leavers to relocate to London in order to do an apprenticeship, and very difficult for Level 2 and 3 apprentices to even move out of the family home in other parts of the country.
It’s great that the government sets the National Minimum Wage for Apprentices, but employers should take affordability into account when developing programmes and setting salaries if they’re going to attract the best and most diverse cohort of school leavers.
Improvements in apprenticeship salaries could feed into and help the wider picture of equality for young people. Recent research shows that university is helping close earning gaps between those from poorer backgrounds and those from more affluent ones, but very slowly.
According to research for this year’s TARGETjobs National Graduate Recruitment awards, students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds expect to earn £27,616 after graduation, while less well off students put their earnings at £24,108. This £3,508 gap between the two groups is an improvement on last year’s, which was the highest ever recorded at £4,400, but is still considerable.
A poll of more than 73,000 students from 127 universities showed just 9% from poorer backgrounds predict they will earn more than £31,000 after graduation, compared with 20% of wealthier students who expect to earn that amount.
The whole point of apprenticeships is offering as many opportunities to as many young people as possible, regardless of socioeconomic background. If this is to be more than just rhetoric, we must address the financial barriers to programmes that many face.
Emma Finamore, Editor, AllAboutSchoolLeavers.co.uk
*Figures published in HomeLet Rental Index 2017
** Based on an average wage of £6.98 an hour for Level 2 and 3 apprentices and £10.80 for Level 4 and 5, and a 37.5 hour working week. Published in the Apprentice Pay Survey 2016.