A thinktank has called on the Government to inject a minimum of £1.3 billion per annum into adult education funding in order to offset the cuts that have been made over the last decade. It additionally asked the Government to make a three year commitment to this which would ensure proper planning. 

The thinktank Social Market Foundation (SMF) has made recommendations to the Government in their most recent report which would see £1.3 billion invested annually into adult learning. The report states that adult education could help individuals acquire key skills and qualifications that would allow them to find employment, especially after mass unemployment brought on by COVID-19.

Although this is a significant amount, the report states that research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies. This data shows that the total expenditure on adult education has dropped by almost half (48 per cent) over the last decade. In 2020-21 prices, this would be equivalent to a drop of £1.3 billion since 2009/2010.

As a result, SMF found that there was also a fall in the number of adults participating in adult education. Again, since 2004, there has been a 48 per cent drop in this area – falling from 29 per cent to just under 15 per cent.

Worryingly, the research made a correlation between those who do partake in adult education and people who are more socially advantaged, have had better access to education and are closer to the labour market. This suggests that it could be low-skilled, low-income  or unemployed people who are missing out on this training and yet, need it most.

The statistics also showed that the UK were spending much less on adult education in comparison to other countries. Across the G7 countries, the UK spent the least on training for adults. As a percentage of GDP, the UK only spent 0.01 per cent of GDP on training in 2011 whilst countries such as France and Germany spent significantly more (0.31 per cent and 0.25 per cent respectively).

Further research from the SMF highlighted how the current training employers offer is not as beneficial as it could be. When comparing data, employees who undertook employer training only accrued marginally stronger personal income growth than employees that did not participate in this training (12.8 per cent versus 12.0 per cent).

As a result, the report suggests that training provided by employers has become a box ticking exercise rather than a route for advancements in pay or career.

Due to this, SMF made various suggestions to improve education for adults in the UK. In addition to the Government investing £1.3 billion annually into adult learning and development, the thinktank states that the learning should be simplified and the outreach to advertise adult education should be as large as possible in order to ensure accessibility. It also states that the Government should increase awareness around employee training rights.

Aveek Bhattacharya, Chief Economist at the Social Market Foundation, said:

For years, too many people at Westminster have ignored and neglected adult education and skills policy as boring issues that only mattered to other, poorer people. That neglect left millions of workers unprepared for economic change and threatens to hold back any economic recovery from the pandemic.

Good adult education can make the difference between work and unemployment, and help people climb the wage ladder. To really help workers hit by the pandemic, ministers should urgently invest more in adult education, put people in charge of the money that funds their own training and do much more to promote the benefits of developing their skills.

Doing this properly requires the Treasury to set out funding for training and skills over at least three years, so that education ministers and officials can plan and implement an effective programme of reform.

As a country, we have collectively failed on adult and education for decades. If we fail the test again now, hundreds of thousands of people will miss out and the UK will fall further and further behind other major economies.

*This research was taken from the Social Market Foundation’s report ‘(Adult) education, education, education’ which was published in November 2020. This report was supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.