It’s a closed door on a bill set to open doors for learners

Fri, April 21st, 2017

Amendment to the Technical and Further Education Bill defeated

An amendment to the Technical and Further Education Bill, which would have meant families of apprentices were able to claim benefits to close the gap in earnings, was defeated in the House of Commons this week by 298 votes to 182.

Plans that would have seen families of apprentices entitled to additional financial support were overturned, after Robert Halfon, minister for apprenticeships and skills told MPs tat the proposals would cost the government more than £200m.

Halfon went on to say: "One of the core principles of an apprenticeship is that it is a job and it is treated accordingly in the benefits system.”

But many feel, in light of a widening gap between apprenticeship minimum wage and the rising living wage, that the move is unfair and argue it succeeds only in reducing the appeal of apprenticeships as a viable option to higher education.

Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for higher education, further education and skills was in support of the amendment and suggested it could ‘open doors’ for the future of apprenticeships and alternative routes into employment.

He also pointed out the disparity in the means of support available to apprentices and their counterparts in further and higher education, including no access to care to learn grants, universal credit, council tax credit or indeed child benefits.

Marsden said: “We understand on our side of the house and I’m sure honourable gentlemen and ladies do on the other, that it’s not simply the benefit itself, it’s the doors that the benefit opens to other benefits, which is a key element in the question.”

Director of learning and skills at Liverpool and Sefton Chamber of Commerce, Paul Cherpeau, said: “Incentivising employment at the expense of the benefits system has been at the heart of this government’s rhetoric, however arguments fuelled by proposed amendments to the Technical and Education Bill suggest that the practical measures may differ from the well-meaning discourse.

“Whilst I agree with Robert Halfron that apprenticeships are jobs – and, in truth, frequently very good jobs - the apprenticeship minimum wage is a pittance compared with the ever-rising living wage and in turn makes his argument for revoking the apprenticeships amendment decidedly weak.”

Paul Bibby, managing director at MSB Solicitors, who are regular supporters of the chamber’s training programme and currently employ seven apprentices across three offices in South Liverpool and the city centre, agreed, saying:

“The government say they are committed to raising the bar on apprenticeships, but this news coupled with the apprenticeships levy feels like a contradiction in terms.

“Withdrawal on funding for families of apprentices and rising costs for employers only seems to me to be succeeding in making apprenticeships an increasingly-less appealing option.

“It is a great shame, as we certainly appreciate the value of apprenticeships at MSB and how they can help to unearth new and exciting talent.”

Peter Taaffe, managing partner of Liverpool accountancy firm, BWMacfarlane, echoed those thoughts:

"One of the more positive policy shifts from the Government in recent times has been the push to encourage more people to take up apprenticeships.

"We know from our own experience how much an apprentice can benefit our business and we have seen first hand the transformational effect it can have on a young person as they start to build their career.

"But if the Government is serious about keeping that momentum going it has to give a clear message that it supports the choices of both the young people themselves, and their families.”

Paul Cherpeau concluded: “The implementation of apprenticeship reform has been fraught and has created uncertainty for providers and employers alike.

“The government has made a commitment to overhaul the delivery of apprenticeships in the UK but they must be made attractive to young people, many of whom face a choice between employment or a continuation of generational worklessness.

“If a commitment to child support is not financially viable for the government, then other measures are required to make this choice much more favourable towards employment.”

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