Why the Lib Dems' 'Skills Wallets' would fail

Last week, the Liberal Democrat party unleashed their new plans for lifelong learning: a £10,000 ‘skills wallet’ which would be distributed to adults in three phases: all adults in the UK would be entitled to £4,000 at 25, £3,000 at 40 and a further £3,000 at 55, to spend on eligible educational and training courses. The money, the party claims, will come from a reversal of the corporation tax, which was lowered to 17% from 20% under the Tory government.

Maud Webster
20th November 2019
Last week, the Liberal Democrat party revealed their new plans for lifelong learning: a £10,000 ‘skills wallet’. This proposed skills wallet would be distributed to adults in three phases; firstly, all adults in the UK would be entitled to £4,000 at 25, then £3,000 at 40, and a further £3,000 at 55. This money, the party argue, will be spent on eligible educational and training courses, and funding will derive from a reversal of the corporation tax which was lowered from 20% to 17% under the Tory government. 

As much as I approve of this increased tax, the fact that the Lib Dems aren’t considering spending this on a) a subsidy / removal of university tuition fees or b) increased funding in primary and secondary education is frustrating. Whilst I appreciate the immense benefits that investing in lifelong education can offer, surely it makes more sense to set people up from a younger age with a good education system that instills a love of learning before they reach adulthood?

Furthermore, the seemingly unrestricted nature of the ‘skills wallet’ causes more concerns as the grants will be given to every adult regardless of income. This juxtaposes both the Labour and Tory proposals for lifelong learning. Labour is targeting 300,000 eligible adults with the offer of free educational and vocational courses, while the Tories are expanding their National Retraining Scheme to retrain adults whose jobs are at risk of being replaced by automation. 

With all adults being entitled to the scheme, £1-2 billion of allocated funding could go to the wealthiest of society - shouldn't the money be targeted and allocated more to those who actually need the funding? Additionally, with the absence of a maintenance loan for Further Education courses, people with responsibilities such as dependent children, or a lack of time due to full time work, will not be able to use the funding.

Thus, if the Lib Dems can iron out these extensive creases in their plans then their proposed 'skills wallet' could have some potential. However, in its current state I feel that the proposals are largely problematic and socially divisive.

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AUTHOR: Maud Webster
(She / Her) Second-year Architecture & Planning student at Newcastle University, and arts sub-editor for the 20/21 academic year.

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