Last month’s Autumn Statement saw the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, announce measures aimed at growing the economy, cutting inflation, and reducing national debt. One of his key areas of focus has been employment and getting people back into meaningful work, particularly those who have health conditions that may pose challenges.
Following the pandemic, there are, according to the most recent Labour Force Survey, 2.6 million working-age people who state that poor health is the primary reason they are not in work, nor looking for work. Additionally, there are 4.8 million working-age people who are economically inactive and have a long-term health condition.
In response, the Treasury, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Health and Social Care are bringing forward the Back to Work Plan. This plan aims to support people who have been unemployed long-term, are disabled or living with long-term illness to get back into the workplace with a series of measures aimed at incentivising and supporting people currently on benefits into work.
Some of the key measures include:
These measures are primarily focused on the process of getting individuals into work. However, for these policies to be truly successful in bringing people out of long-term unemployment, into successful and productive work, we need to see investment into and reform of Further Education (FE) and Skills alongside these measures.
Whilst the announcement of £50 million of investment for ‘growth sector’ apprenticeships, particularly in engineering, is welcome, there are a range of other policies that would compliment this announcement and the Back to Work Plan, further improving employment figures, productivity, and economic growth.
Firstly, making the apprenticeship system work for SMEs is crucial to developing more pathways into work; small and medium-sized businesses are critical to productivity and growth. However, current bureaucracy is a barrier to hiring apprentices for SMEs. Changing the rate of funding for delivering apprenticeships to SMEs would incentivise training providers to promote and expand apprenticeship take-up by smaller businesses.
There should also be an increase in support for lower-level programmes and qualifications. These provide important routes into jobs and create a more diverse pipeline for higher-level opportunities. This should include a review of entry-level funding and other incentives required for investment and delivery.
The Back to Work Plan is a solid part of what needs to be a wider set of reforms and investments to help millions of people back into work. The Skills and FE system will always play a central role in improving employment figures, by providing people with the tools they need to get a job in a modern, dynamic economy that provides them with security and purpose.