How education and skills can tackle poverty and low pay

10 April 2014

NIACE has published a special issue of its flagship magazine Adults Learning, examining the role of education and skills in tackling poverty and low pay.

With the majority of people experiencing poverty in the UK living in working households, there is an urgent need to rethink both our approach to tackling poverty and our approach to adult skills and growth. Growth, productivity, poverty and skills need to be seen as part of the same crucial agenda.

This special issue – free to download – brings together a range of expert voices to tackle the issues head-on. The contributors are drawn from local authorities, employers and employer representatives, community learning, further and higher education, union learning, senior researchers, Local Enterprise Partnerships, and anti-poverty and low-pay policy groups.

Paul Stanistreet, Editor of Adults Learning, said:

“As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has highlighted, a rising tide does not lift all boats. While we have seen the first signs of what we all hope will be sustained economic growth in the UK, in stronger economic output and a steady growth in jobs, for many people and places struggling with falling real wages and squeezed living standards, the benefits of growth are simply not being felt.

“Some 13 million people in the UK – 21% of the population – are experiencing poverty. For the first time, the majority of them live in households in which at least one adult is working. This is a significant change in the nature of poverty in the UK which requires a serious rethink in the way in which we approach it. Not only can we no longer assume that economic growth will ‘trickle down’ to people living in poverty, we cannot take for granted, as some still appear to, that work is a guaranteed direct route out of poverty.

“As contributors to this issue show, education and skills are crucial in generating the productivity which enables higher wages and in helping create not only more jobs but, critically, better jobs. They have a huge potential role in tackling these difficult and complex issues. The problems facing those on low pay are compounded by poor prospects of advancement and little access to worthwhile education or training. It is vital that we maintain a ladder of educational opportunity from basic skills to higher education, with no rungs missing, supported by excellent information, advice and guidance, for adults and young people alike.

“The challenge is significant. There are no short-term fixes – but there really is no choice but to try; not if we are to begin to stem the growth of poverty and inequality. A good start would be to see these issues as related, part of a single ecology, in which growth is acknowledged as part of the agenda to tackle poverty, and where productivity, growth and low pay are recognised as aspects of a single problem, which skills and education have a hugely significant role in addressing. This issue of Adults Learning, which aims to inform debate in the run up to next year’s General Election, is, we hope, a step towards that improved understanding.”