MS01 - Adult Literacy

Before the drudgery of daily work begins, Members may convene in the Chamber to discuss any manner of motion that is brought before the House. Likewise, this is the opportunity for Ministers of the Crown to address the House.
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Amelia Lockhart
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MS01 - Adult Literacy

Post by Amelia Lockhart »

Madam Speaker,

In the most recent election, this Government was elected on a promise that “more people will be able to realise their aspirations for themselves and their children”. We committed to building on the foundations of the previous four years and investing in the skills and hard work of the British people.

As Secretary of State for Business, Transport and Social Mobility, I recognise that our businesses are much stronger now than in 1997. But I also recognise that there are significant challenges on the horizon which command a highly-skilled, well-trained workforce across our country. While we have some of the best schools and universities in the world, we also have a significant proportion of the population who have struggled with their education.

We cannot avoid the reality that too many people in this country lack basic skills, including literacy. Around 7 million – or 20% of the adult population – lack functional literacy skills or the ability to read, write and speak English to the level necessary to fully participate in our society and economy. The vast majority left school years, if not decades, before and has not accessed adult skills training since.

Our economy is held back and our businesses struggle to prosper to the full if part of the workforce is excluded due to low skills. Illiteracy costs this country an estimated £10 billion a year, while poor basic skills cost a business with over 50 employees around £165,000 a year.

This is an economic and moral problem that must be addressed urgently.

The previous Government has already announced a target of helping 750,000 adults with their basic skills by 2004 and 2.25 million by 2010. This target is ambitious but, in the view of this Government, not ambitious enough. Today, therefore, I am placing a new ambition before this House: by 2010, the number of adults without basic literacy skills will have halved – and be continuing on a downwards path every year.

The Prime Minister and I agree that this must be a cross-government ambition as many departments will have a significant influence on whether or not we succeed. We will be working with groups outside of Government, including local government, trade unions, businesses, and community organisations. After all, tackling this problem will require more than just central direction but the power of groups who want to make society better for millions of people.

But we also recognise that we must start taking action right now. We are building on the work of the previous Government and the 1998 Moser Report. I want to take this opportunity to thank Claud Moser for his continued dedication to this issue.

Firstly, Madam Speaker, we will continue to make the necessary changes to deliver on our manifesto commitment of every job seeker getting a basic skills test. To ensure that support needs are identified, we will be investing in training for personal advisors in job centres. They will be able to encourage the take-up of basic skills training if needed whenever a job seeker is in touch with job centres. Considering individuals with basic skills are more likely to be unemployed, using the welfare system to increase the uptake of training is vital.

Secondly, the Government recognises that one of the biggest barriers to improving basic skills is the way the current training system is orientated. We do not have enough intensive basic literacy training provision, relying instead on training for a few hours a week. Not enough to deliver a real improvement for people.

In the next Budget, we will introduce a Workplace Basic Literacy Skills Development Fund. In the first year, this will provide £37.5 million in seed funding to businesses across England, especially SMEs, to develop intensive basic skills programmes in the workplace or at local institutions, such as a college or adult education centre. This Fund seeks to harness those who stand to benefit from a better skilled workforce to develop relevant skills programmes, and encourage their workforce to attend them. It would provide funding on a par to similar programmes in further education institutions.

Thirdly, the Government wants to encourage the diversity and outreach of intensive basic literacy programmes. It is important to recognise that while we provide 250,000 basic skills placements through educational institutions, there will be many people who have no desire – or are fearful – of attending a college. There may also be some who do not have employers who tap into the Workplace Basic Literacy Skills Development Fund but want to access training. Therefore, the Government will introduce a Community Adult Skills Fund to provide funding to community organisations – for example, libraries, Sure Start, sports centres and others – to provide training in different settings. In the first year, this will be the same size as the Workplace Basic Literacy Skills Development Fund at £37.5 million.

Both Funds will make a significant difference to thousands of adults, providing them with the opportunity to access the basic skills they have long been unable to access. I encourage both businesses and community organisations to apply for funding.

But the Government also recognises that one of the biggest challenges to providing intensive basic skills programmes is that employees lack the time for study. Unable to get paid time off work, despite the significant benefits a company would secure, employees cannot afford to access these courses – instead relying on tuition for a few hours a week. Unless we support more employees to take time off for training, we cannot upskill our workforce on basic skills to the level required for our economy to succeed in the future.

Therefore, the Government will provide Work Release Funding to employers. This will allow employees to access paid leave to attend intensive training, including both literacy and numeracy. Funding would be provided to employers to release their workers for the equivalent of one day a week for 13 weeks on an accredited basic skills course. Funding would be provided like it is for statutory maternity pay with a higher rate for SMEs.

Madam Speaker,

This Government has the ambition of having the best-trained workforce in the world. It is central to our vision for the economy in a globalised world. But we cannot have some of the best trained professions in the world, while a significant part of the workforce lacks basic skills. We must help those who need it to improve their literacy skills, and that is what we have announced will do.
Amelia Lockhart
Labour Party
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party (2001 - )
MP for Great Grimsby (1992 - )

Deputy Prime Minister (2001 - )
Secretary of State for Business, Transport and Social Mobility (2001 - )


Secretary of State for Health (1999 - 2001)
Minister of State for Public Health (1997 - 1999)
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Rebecca Flair
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Re: MS01 - Adult Literacy

Post by Rebecca Flair »

Madam Speaker,

I thank the Secretary of State for Business for her statement and would like to echo her comments regarding adult illiteracy. It is absolutely shameful that in the 21st Century 20% of the adult population lack the fundamental literacy skills that are so essential to full participation in society. While the Conservative Party whinge about the Assisted Places Scheme and their 19th Century solutions to 21st Century problems. I would like to ask the Secretary of State whether there has been an estimation for costs for the Work Release Funding programme and further to that point what examination there has been by the department for the potential for a programme to provide these businesses with easier access to temporary cover for the employees that have taken advantage of this programme? The Secretary of State is absolutely right that this is an economic problem but we must be absolutely certain in dealing with this issue that we do not create a short term capacity problem in these businesses, unemployment is low and may yet fall lower so it is essential that for these 13 days there is cover that can be sourced to ensure that businesses are not short staffed and are able to respond to unforeseen circumstances.

Secondly Madam Speaker I would like to ask the Secretary of State what plans she has for the third and fourth recommendations of the Moser Report: promotion and entitlement. New programmes are all well and good but if the people do not hear about them they will have very little uptake and therefore very little impact. I urge the Government to put serious thought into promotion for these new programmes including television and radio adverts to ensure that those who cannot or do not read are able to hear and watch about the programmes. Equally the "confidential assessment of skills and access to free, high quality information, advice, and guidance" will enable individuals and programme providers to map out a course best suited to each individual so I urge the Government to continue with this aspect of the report as well.

Madam Speaker I draw my remarks to a close by once again thanking the Secretary of State for taking action in this area, it is a good start, but we here in the Liberal Democrats urge the Government to ensure it is not merely a start but a completion of the vision of the Moser Report. Our citizens and our economy are watching and needing this support, we cannot afford to get it wrong.
Rebecca Flair
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Amelia Lockhart
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Re: MS01 - Adult Literacy

Post by Amelia Lockhart »

Madam Speaker,

I thank the Right Honourable Lady for her comments, and congratulate her on her accession to a new position in the most terrible of circumstances.
Regarding the Work Release Funding, the Government is expecting businesses to require funding for 100,000 people a year to access intensive training courses, with an expectant cost around £110 million a year. Of course, announcements will be made in the forthcoming budget.

The Right Honourable Lady raises an interesting point regarding cover, and if businesses do find it difficult to secure it, we shall endeavor to help them. However, I would say that businesses are not reporting difficulties in securing cover for maternity leave which, as we know, is a longer period of time off.

Regarding advertising, the Government will be taking its usual steps to ensure that businesses and community groups are aware of the funding. Of course, the reason why we are providing additional funding to these groups is so that they make it known to their employees and their local area that training is available. Outreach to those who would not normally access training is an important part of this strategy as I have already outlined. Similarly, in many cases businesses and community groups will be best placed to provide the assessment that the Right Honourable Lady outlines – and we are providing funding to job centres so they can provide the best support and provide the best information to those who don’t have jobs.

I can assure the Right Honourable Lady that we will be keeping an eye on the implementation of these policies, and if more needs to be done it shall be done. I am under no illusions about the challenge this Government has set itself.
Amelia Lockhart
Labour Party
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party (2001 - )
MP for Great Grimsby (1992 - )

Deputy Prime Minister (2001 - )
Secretary of State for Business, Transport and Social Mobility (2001 - )


Secretary of State for Health (1999 - 2001)
Minister of State for Public Health (1997 - 1999)
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William Croft
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Re: MS01 - Adult Literacy

Post by William Croft »

(As Theresa May, Shadow Secretary of State for Education)

Madam Speaker,

I welcome the Rt. Hon Deputy Prime Minister's statement on the Government's plans to combat adult illiteracy, and wish to signal the Opposition's support for their proposals to tackle this issue of national importance.

The Deputy Prime Minister is right to point out the grave state of adult literacy in this country. The fact that 1 in 5 British adults lack meaningful literacy competency is a deep concern to the Conservative Party, and represents a stain on our country's tradition of valuing learning and extending access to education to all people. We recognize that education doesn't begin and end within traditional schooling, but is a lifelong endeavor and should be treated as such. While education is often viewed as a means to garner the skills and tools necessary to secure employment, which is a certainly one important goal of the education system in this country, we know that learning is so much more valuable than just that. Being able to properly read provides people with a needed sense of dignity and confidence. It breaks down barriers to access across all aspects of society, and enables people to fully enjoy an independent and meaningful life. No person should be subjected to the ignorance and social paralysis that comes from being unable to read, and it is for that reason that the Conservative Party wishes to work alongside the Government in their efforts to correct this national error.

There are a few areas of concern from the Opposition that I would like to question the Deputy Prime Minister about. First, as the Leader of the Opposition noted in his exchange with the Prime Minister earlier this week, it is fair to say that the Government is struggling to meet the national targets they have set out for student attainment in Key Stages 2 and 4. It is not appropriate to say at this stage that the Government has indeed failed to meet their targets, as we have not yet reached the target years and so proper analysis cannot be completed, but it is concerning that attainments level in maths fell this year and plateaued in English. This comes at a time when the Government is significantly ramping up their investment in youth education, calling into question the efficacy of their strategy and the value for money of the taxpayer. What reporting measures will the Government put in place to track the effectiveness of these programs, and will the Deputy Prime Minister commit to reporting annually to this House as to the programs progress in order to allow the British people to track their success?

Additionally, Madam Speaker, I would like to discuss the funding being allocated for these programs. The Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed that £70 million will be made available for the two programs announced in this Ministerial Statement. Can she explain to the House how this money is being raised? I would also note, Madam Speaker, that the 1998 Moser Report estimated that some £680 million would need to be allocated by 2005 in order for the Government to effectively implement the report's recommended National Strategy. Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm if this sum is to be made available for their literacy programs, and if so, will she again clarify how this money will be made available?

While we're on the subject of the Moser Report I would like to note an additional recommendation they made. While Government Ministers have lined up to viciously oppose the recent EDM calling for English competency exams to be administered to immigrants living in the United Kingdom, the Moser Report in fact recommended a very similar proposal be enacted. In Chapter 7 of the report, Claud Moser and his team called for, "free confidential assessment of basic skills," to be made available to all people living in the United Kingdom whose first language is not English. The Moser Report recognized what many in the Conservative Party have been arguing for over the last few weeks: that it is nearly impossible for any person who moves to this country to live a successful and meaningful life if they do not possess a basic command of the English language. Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm if the Government plans to make arragenments to execute this recommendation?
William Croft MP

Leader of the Opposition

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Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment, 1999-2001
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Amelia Lockhart
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Re: MS01 - Adult Literacy

Post by Amelia Lockhart »

Madam Speaker,

I thank the Shadow Secretary of State for Education for her comments.

Let me first deal with the question relating to the Budget by reminding the Shadow Secretary of State that I am not the Chancellor of the Exchequer and this is not a Budget speech. I encourage the Honourable Member to ask the Shadow Chancellor to speak on this subject at the appropriate juncture. I’m sure the Honourable Gentleman will have lots to say when the Government announces its Budget. But it is important to stress that basic adult skills funding has risen consistently under this Government because of the requirements that the Moser Report correctly identifies.

Relating to the point on efficacy of public spending, I remind the Honourable Lady that the Prime Minister corrected the Leader of the Opposition when it comes to educational attainment and Labour’s record. Government spending, including that announced today, will be scrutinised by the National Audit Office and by Parliament itself. If the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Transport and Social Mobility wishes to question me annually on the effectiveness of the programme, he is more than welcome. I have every confidence that our investment in basic skills will be effective and prudent, but I am always open to scrutiny.

It is shameful that the Honourable Lady is attempting to draw Sir Claud Moser, an honourable servant of our country since he made his home here aged 14, into the Conservative Party’s vitriolic debate on immigration and refugees. The view of the Government on their policy is well-known, and we oppose it. We continue to support immigrants to this country with their English and ensure they are able to contribute fully to our country, but we will not threaten refugees and their safety to score party political points.
Amelia Lockhart
Labour Party
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party (2001 - )
MP for Great Grimsby (1992 - )

Deputy Prime Minister (2001 - )
Secretary of State for Business, Transport and Social Mobility (2001 - )


Secretary of State for Health (1999 - 2001)
Minister of State for Public Health (1997 - 1999)
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