Should pensioners foot the bill to give young people a chance?


By Sally Dicketts, Chief Executive of Activate Learning @sallydicketts

We keep hearing that the old have plundered the wealth of the young. Significant increases in life expectancy mean that Britain’s over-65s outnumber those under the age of 16 for the first time. The Institute of Economic Affairs recently warned that the government will need to cut spending by more than a quarter or impose significant tax hikes to fund future pension and social care obligations.

At the same time we hear that social mobility and parity of esteem is essential if we are to address disadvantage and provide today’s young people with the same opportunities as our wealthy baby boomers.

The reality is that there is only ever going to be a finite amount of money and competing demands. But I would suggest that the answer lies not in taking money from our pensioners, but in achieving greater equity in funding for education.

For the most disadvantaged to be able to engage in society they need a clear route into employment – one which develops the technical and soft skills required in a supportive environment. That route is best provided via further education colleges.

Why then is further education the football kicked around in every funding cut game? Governments continue to protect the funding for vote-winning schools and enable universities to claim £9,000 worth of funding per 18 year old student compared to just £3,300 for an 18 year old in further education colleges.

Last week I attended the Skills Debate, hosted by City and Guilds to explore the answer to the UK’s skills shortages. The debate was coming at the issue from a different angle, this time focusing on how to maintain the UK’s competitive edge.

Nevertheless, what struck me was how little FE featured in the debate.

A discussion of apprenticeships suggested that they could be solely delivered by employers and that funding should follow suit. The solution seemed simple, give employers the cash and let them take control of apprenticeships that meet their skills and employment needs.

That approach may be fine for the larger employers, and for young people who already display the attitudes and behaviours required. But what of the many smaller employers who rely on apprentices but lack the infrastructure, or of the young people who need extra support to get them ready for the workplace?

Further education colleges currently meet this need and are delivering a growing programme of traineeships to equip young people who are not quite ready for paid employment.

If we keep stripping out funding streams from further education we will be left with an empty husk. The government cannot expect to keep reducing or removing funding and expect to achieve its vision of social mobility.

If we want our young people to realise the opportunities of their parents’ generation we need to understand the greatest drivers of social mobility and be prepared to invest.

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