Chancellor Philip Hammond has announced a variety of measures aimed at skills, education, welfare and employment in the Budget.
First off, the Government will create a new National Retraining Partnership (NRP) with the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry, to develop a National Retraining Scheme. As a first step, the NRP will oversee targeted action in sectors with skills shortages, initially focussing on construction and digital skills. The Government will also invest £30m to test the use of AI and innovative EdTech in online digital skills courses, and provide £8.5m over the next two years to support Unionlearn, an organisation of the Trades Union Congress to boost learning in the workplace. Following the announcement of T levels in the Spring Budget, £20m has also been pledged to help teachers prepare for this change.
The National Minimum Wage for Apprentices will increase again in April, from £3.50 to £3.70 per hour. This will be the second rise in a year, following a previous increase from £3.40 per hour seven months ago.
The Budget also places renewed emphasis on STEM subjects. It will reward schools and colleges by giving them £600 for every extra pupil who decides to take Maths or Further Maths A levels or Core Maths – with over £80 million available initially, and no cap on numbers. The Government will also test innovative approaches to improve GCSE Maths resit outcomes by launching an £8.5 million pilot, alongside £40 million to establish Further Education Centres of Excellence across the country to train maths teachers and spread best practice.
£34m will be provided to scale up innovative training models in the construction across the country, to meet new housing demand. As part of this, a second devolution deal, agreed in principle with the West Midlands Mayor and Combined Authority, will provide £5m for a local construction skills training scheme. The Government is working with industry more broadly to finalise a Construction Sector Deal that will support innovation and skills, including £170m of investment through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
Changes have also been announced to the controversial Universal Credit strategy. From January, those with an underlying entitlement will be able to access up to a month’s worth of Universal Credit within five days via an interest-free advance. The period of recovery will be extended from six months to twelve months, making it easier for claimants to manage their finances. From February the Government will remove the seven-day waiting period so that entitlement starts on the first day of application. The Government will also make it easier for claimants to have the housing element of their award paid directly to their landlord.