Retail trade union Usdaw is asking the Government to think again on ending the Union Learning Fund in England. The Government announced that all funding will be withdrawn from the end of March 2021, despite budgeting £12 million a year for the Union Learning Fund (ULF) until March 2022. Around 200,000 workers are supported each year into learning or training with union support through the ULF.

Union members from across England have been writing to their MPs asking them to support local learning centres and lobby the Chancellor to find in his Budget on 3 March the £12 million a year needed to keep these important lifelong learning projects that help workers back into education to gain qualifications in core subjects such as Maths, English and IT. Union learning also successfully supports many Government flagship schemes in the workplace such as apprenticeships, traineeships and the new Kickstart scheme.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary says: 
“Many of our members have written to their MPs asking for support in opposing Government plans to scrap the Union Learning Fund in England. Our members have been disappointed with the replies they’ve received from many Conservative MPs, which do little to address our concerns.

“While we welcome the Government’s plans to invest £2.5 billion through the National Skills Fund, our concerns are about how effective that investment will be and who it will reach? In our experience, union learning is uniquely able to engage and support thousands of ‘disadvantaged’ learners. Most had few, if any, qualifications and would never have considered attending a college, or signing up for an on-line course, if it were not for the support and encouragement of Union Learning Reps in the workplace.

“If the Government is serious about ‘levelling up’, they must understand that workplace learning provides a vital pathway to the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, as outlined in their recent white paper, and is a proven way of engaging employers as well as employees. The world of work is changing rapidly and we understand it is more important than ever for workers to develop new skills, but making level three qualifications available does not address the issue for those who don’t have a level one or two qualification.

“Unfortunately the Government’s white paper pledge to increase affordable learning provision, doesn’t necessarily increase opportunity; particularly for those who lack the means, ability and most importantly the support to access online courses. Without a workable engagement strategy the Government’s approach will exclude the low skilled and low paid workers most in need.  Losing union learning will leave an enormous gap in engaging the very workers the Government says they want to reach.

“We urge the Government to re-think their plans and look at integrating ULF into the National Skills Fund as opposed to scrapping it; build on its strengths and make it a key part of the solution not the problem. We hope the Chancellor will recognise the value of these projects, which reach the workers other schemes do not.”

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK’s fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

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