The Local Government Association (LGA) said funding for adult learning has fallen by almost half over the last decade and, despite needing it the most, those with the lowest qualifications are the least likely to access adult training.
The LGA said reductions in adult education funding have coincided with a drop of 3.8 million adult learners since 2010, leaving just 33% of adults on courses or in training, a record low since figures began in 1996.
It said, as the economy is changing, with digitalisation, extended working lives and our exit from the European Union, upskilling our adult workforce must be a top priority for councils to play their part in driving sustainable growth.
Councils run adult learning centres to support their communities. However, faced with unprecedented cuts, many face the prospect of reducing provision or winding down their centres altogether.
In order to boost support, the LGA is urging the government to at least double the Adult Education Budget, some of which funds local authority adult and community education provision, from £1.5 billion to £3 billion.
This would improve access for people to a range of entry level courses through to professional qualifications, provide interview support and confidence-boosting programmes and help more people already in work with courses to re-train, upskill or move up in the workplace.
Cllr Kevin Bentley, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said:
‘Additional funding to local authority adult education providers has the ability to transform people’s lives by supporting the most vulnerable, including the long-term unemployed, or those out of work due to redundancy, ill-health or caring responsibilities to get the support they need.
‘A lack of support is holding back adults that need help the most – putting the mental health and wellbeing of our communities at risk and increasing their likelihood of isolation and loneliness.
‘Councils are committed to supporting the Government to reduce inequality in our regions.
‘With much-needed investment, adult learning can improve health and wellbeing, upskill our workforce, support disadvantaged groups, reduce unemployment and underemployment, promote economic growth, reduce the welfare bill, and decrease social isolation, anxiety and loneliness.
‘By increasing adult education funding and handing control over how it’s spent locally, councils and combined authorities can help revolutionise adult education support, getting thousands more people the support they need to get on in their careers.’
A Department for Education spokesman said it is making an initial investment of £100m to develop the National Retraining Scheme, which will give adults whose jobs are at risk of changing the support and tools they need to retrain and move into a better job.
‘We are providing an extra £3 billion, over the course of this Parliament, for a new National Skills Fund to help people learn new skills and prepare for the economy of the future.
‘We are continuing to invest in education and skills training for adults through the Adult Education Budget, half of which has been allocated to mayoral authorities so they can better tailor education to local need.’
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