Education is crucial amid spiralling living costs

29 May 2022, 6:00

FE must focus on delivering a versatile workforce to help tackle the cost of living crisis, writes Mark Dawe

Following two years of political, social and economic disruptions, the government announced its levelling up white paper earlier this year.

With widespread devolution and the recognition of skills in socio-economic development, the white paper shared an optimistic view of opportunities development but left questions on how such proposals would successfully be delivered.

Now, three months later and after Ofgem has increased the energy price cap by 54 per cent, a cost of living crisis has gripped the country, with nationwide poverty gaps only growing. 

How wide are poverty gaps in the UK?

The variation in household income between regions and countries in the UK is increasing, with factors such as ethnic groups and disability status further exacerbating this. Those households in the north-east of England, alongside households from a Pakistani ethnic group, had the lowest median incomes before housing costs.

This is in contrast to the south-east, the wealthiest region in the UK, between April 2018 and March 2020, which has experienced a rise in median wealth by 43 per cent since 2006.

Now, amid skyrocketing energy bills, inflation, tax hikes and stagnant wages, food insecurity and widespread fuel and food poverty, those on the lowest income are most heavily affected.

Despite being the fifth wealthiest country in the world, the UK now has four million children experiencing food insecurity, alongside a 33 per cent annual increase in demand for food parcels, according to food bank charity the Trussell Trust. 

Something must be done to support the recovery and security of the British economy and those individuals living within in.

Here are 7 ways FE helps to support the economy. Education does the following:

1.         Helps close poverty gaps

2.         Increases the productivity of an existing workforce

3.         Encourages migration to highly demanded skills area

4.         Creates a workforce with a versatile skillset

5.         Creates a better-paid worker

6.         Raises the overall skill levels of society

7.         Supports government funding schemes

One of the biggest contributors to global poverty is education, with most of those living in extreme poverty lacking basic levels of education.

Known as “the great equaliser”, at a basic level education opens the doors to jobs, resources and skills, allowing individuals to break cycles of poverty, boosting the economic state. 

In 2016, The World Economic Forum highlighted the ability of education to affect a country’s productivity. Education increases the collective ability of the workforce to carry out existing tasks more quickly, facilitating the transfer of knowledge about new information, products, and technologies and increasing creativity.

The combined effects of education and its boost to economic output offer better opportunities on both an individual and a societal level.

A recent report by The Skills Network shed light on the changing skills demands of the labour market following the pandemic, with a growth in the demand for mental health and green skills on a national scale.

It means a workforce equipped with a varied and versatile skillset is key.

Similarly, as the government works to boost economic activity through the introduction of skills funding streams, such as digital bootcamps and the Multiply numeracy programme, the role of FE providers in developing and delivering on this is fundamental.

The role of digital resources in modern education is pivotal, creating the most accessible learning provision through digital means, allowing individuals and businesses around the country to upskill and re-train regardless of location and lifestyle.

As we navigate challenging economic periods and look towards a more settled economic future, the education sector has a responsibility to provide support.

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