5. Lifelong Learning and the Benefits System
5.1 One source of potential increased demand, and an area for cultural change is for people currently on benefit. In our working papers, we have produced a first analysis of the impact of the operation of the current benefit system upon participation in learning.(20)
5.2 We welcome Government moves to reform the welfare system, facilitating peoples chances to take up or return to paid work. Part of that move may well entail gaining access to learning. Many people who are currently unemployed, or seeking to return to work, many lone parents and those on disability and other benefits also wish to take up programmes of learning or remain in them. They can be deterred from doing so by the current rules and procedures which govern the operation of the benefits system. This is despite the useful progress made by the implementation of schemes such as the 'Workskill' projects. Such potential learners' opportunities are restricted by:
5.3 As things stand, it tends to be the better qualified claimants who are able to use and navigate the benefits system to advantage to support their learning. Different rules apply to courses offered under the different funding regimes of the Funding Councils for further and higher education, European Social Fund, Single Regeneration Budget, TECs and the Employment Service. Too often, programmes of study for those on benefit are designed to fit the requirements of benefit systems rather than the needs of the students or to promote desirable educational or training outcomes.
5.4 Current funding rules and outcome targets also presuppose greater commitment than the benefit system allows. Some kinds of volunteering, which is itself a valuable pathway into learning or basis for its continuation, are also restricted by the current application of the benefits system. Moreover, many agencies concerned with benefits absorb valuable time and resources in updating information and tackling problems.
20 This section draws on working paper Lifelong Learning and the Benefit System, NAGCELL working group convened by Dr. Dan Finn.
KR4 As part of the government's overall strategy to reform the Welfare system, the Secretaries of State for Education and Employment and Social Security should:
SR11 In the meantime government should: