Media Release

Covid unemployed need big new training package

Workers losing jobs in the pandemic desperately need a major overhaul of adult skills and training services to help them find new work and avoid falling into poverty, a report says today.

The Social Market Foundation said that a “disastrous” 50% decline in adult education funding over the last decade had left many low-wage workers poorly prepared for economic change and will hamper the UK economy’s recovery from the crisis.

New SMF data shows training can be vital to getting a new job: people using adult education are much less likely to be unemployed than those who do not train, the SMF showed.

Ministers should urgently inject at least an extra £1.3 billion a year into adult education, the SMF said, calling on the Treasury to give education a multiyear financial settlement to support skills and training services, instead of the one-year spending review currently planned for later this month.

The overhaul should also give workers control over funds for learning, simplify training options and launch a major publicity campaign to explain the benefits of improving skills, the SMF said.

Official figures this week show that a record 314,000 redundancies were recorded July-September, with unemployment hitting 4.8% – the highest level since late 2016.

In a report sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the SMF found that the share of British workers participating in adult education has halved in recent years, falling from 29% in 2004 to under 15% now.

Workers with the lowest levels of education – who could gain the most from training – are the least likely to get help with skills: just 6% of them took part in education or training last year.

Many pandemic job losses have been reported in retail and hospitality, where many workers have low skills. The SMF said that without better training options, many of the newly unemployed will struggle to find new work and avoid long-term poverty.

People who were unemployed in 2012-13 and participated in some form of training were far less likely to be unemployed five years later, the SMF found. Some 16% of those who undertook training in 2012/13 were unemployed in 2017-18, compared to 27%  of those did not participate in some form of training.

The SMF report uses longitudinal data from the Understanding Society project to track the economic fortunes of workers over the last decade. SMF researchers also interviewed low-income workers about their views and experiences of adult education.

While the report shows that adult education helps low-income workers get work and increase their pay, it also identifies significant obstacles to their participation in training. Those barriers include the time required to carry out training, but also “dispositional” aversion: some workers just don’t think training will help them.

To address that, the SMF recommends a major public “outreach” campaign, promoted at school gates and elsewhere in the community,

The report also shows that workers participating in state-provided adult education receive significantly greater benefits from that training than those who get in-work training from employers.

Among those in paid employment, those participating in employer-provided training in 2012-13 saw only slightly stronger personal income growth than those that did not participate (12.8% versus 12.0%).

In contrast, those participating in a college or university degree, diploma or course saw notably faster income growth (25% versus 15%).

Meanwhile, adults who were in work and participated in training in 2012-13 were more likely to have changed occupations five years later

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.”

Helen Barnard, Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:

“2020 has been a long and difficult storm to weather, especially for people in poverty who are now facing a winter of anxiety. Recovering from this in the long term will need more jobs, better jobs and access to the skills needed to do them.

“With redundancies reaching a record high, we need to urgently invest in large scale skills and re-training programmes to help adults who have lost their jobs access new opportunities. Government should commit to a major expansion in adult skills and education at this month’s spending review.

“But to be effective, this must go hand in hand with job creation schemes and investments in local economies after coronavirus, to ensure that work can offer families a secure route out of poverty during difficult times”.


  • For media enquiries, please contact SMF’s Impact Officer Linus Pardoe – – 07402 576995

About the report

  • The SMF report, entitled (Adult) education, education, education, is published at 7am on Thursday 12 November at
  • The SMF is also publishing a separate briefing on job switching for low-income workers alongside the report found at
  • Both papers were sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The SMF retained full editorial independence. The SMF is a registered charity committed to financial transparency, declaring all its sources of funding.


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