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Comment on Liberal Democrats 'Skills Wallet' policy

The Liberal Democrats have today announced plans for a “new era of learning throughout life” with the creation of an ambitious Skills Wallet. This will give every adult £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lives.

We have released a short statment reflecting on the policy below:

We agree with the Liberal Democrats that lifelong learning is vital to the interests of our economy and society. The proposal to give every adult £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lives is certainly ambitious and the Liberal Democrats are clearly thinking seriously about how they support individuals to improve their skills and access better opportunities. There are however several questions around the policy that require more clarification. Firstly, it is unclear at this stage how the funding will sit alongside existing adult education budgets. The existing adult education budget is approximately £1.9 billion and has sustained reductions of around 40% since 2010. The Lib Dems are suggesting that the skills wallet policy will also cost £1.9 billion a year in total by 2024-25—so does this represent a doubling of the budget for lifelong learning? As such, it will be important that this plan is not used to offset existing adult education budgets at a national level, or as part of the grant given to combined authorities through regional devolution. We would therefore welcome further details from the Liberal Democrats about how this proposal interacts with existing budgets and existing approaches to lifelong learning.

There is also an important question about the type of training that will be covered by the skills wallet, and the types of approved providers that will be permitted to carry out this training. A statement made by the party says that: “Individuals can choose how and when to spend this money on a range of approved education and training courses – only those from regulated providers and monitored by the Office for Students.” The reference to the OFS here seems to imply that the focus of the allowances will be towards higher education courses. The fact remains however, that to really get to grips with our national productivity and social mobility challenges we need to be doing a lot more to help individuals progress from levels two to three, or from levels three to four. It is unclear at this stage whether this policy will truly provide a mechanism for doing this.

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