Only Labour Will Create An Education System Accessible For Everyone, Not Just The Privileged Few

07/06/2017 16:16 BST | Updated 07/06/2017 16:16 BST
PAUL ELLIS via Getty Images

Last week, Labour pledged to create a million high quality jobs through a nationwide programme of investment and a new era of cooperation between government, business and workers.

This was not simply a promise to keep unemployment rates down. As the Tories are fond of reminding us, headline unemployment rates have recovered since the 2007 financial crisis.

The problem is that much of this recovery has been driven by insecure, low skilled and poorly paid work.

When Thatcher sent our former industrial heartlands into managed decline we lost secure, fulfilling jobs, which had given generations of communities a sense of pride and purpose. Those jobs were sent overseas and when they were eventually replaced, it was with jobs that offered little but a minimum wage pay packet at the end of the week. The Prime Minister may have changed, but once again the Conservatives are managing the decline in lives and communities across the country, with too many people trapped in low-paid, insecure work.

Our industrial strategy sets out a game-changing vision for rebalancing our economy and driving up the quality of work across all sectors. But we will have failed workers across the country if we create high-quality jobs but fail to give British workers the skills they need to do those jobs. Only by providing both jobs and skills can we truly transform our economy.

By ensuring everyone has the opportunities to retrain and develop their skills, Labour will give everyone access to better paid, more fulfilling jobs in a more productive economy. We will create better working lives while also shifting towards an economy where fewer people in work need to rely on benefits just to get by or to pay the rent.

Creating a better-paid, happier workforce is not the only reason for investing in Britain's skills base.

The UK's productivity is among the worst in the developed world. The average German or French worker takes four days to produce what his or her counterpart in the UK does in five. This is the real cost of years of failing to invest in our workforce and workplaces.

And that failure is only going to hold us back even more as the automation revolution gathers speed.

Technological change - from automation to decarbonisation - is putting many jobs and industries at risk of obsolescence. History suggests that new jobs will replace the old. But there will be churn, as these new forms of work will often need new skills.

Access to lifelong training, free to all, will be essential to support these people into new work.

Leaving the EU will intensify Britain's skills shortage. The Tories are happy to make political hay on anti-immigrant sentiment, but they have helped create an economy which relies on migrant labour to do crucial jobs. Yet their policies show they have no plans to invest in British workers: whether cutting nurses bursaries, hiking up tuition fees, or slashing the adult skills budget.

Many businesses are already losing skilled workers because of the Conservatives' refusal to follow Labour in guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens residing in Britain. And the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that their manifesto commitment to cut immigration would cause considerable damage to the economy and could create a £6billion hole in the public finances. Rather than blaming migrants for taking jobs, the priority of government should be to ensure all workers have the skills our economy needs.

Meeting these challenges will require a step change in skills and training provision - to both upskill the workforce and to ensure that everyone is able to retrain at any point in life to meet the changing needs of the economy.

That's why Labour has made a flagship commitment to make all further education courses free at the point of use for everyone, at any stage of their lives.

Before entering politics, we both returned to further education to get the skills we needed to work and provide for our families. So we understand the role that lifelong learning can play in transforming lives.

For too long further and vocational education have been the poor relation of our education system, yet for many from working class backgrounds, they do the most to change lives. Labour will put vocational education at the heart of our National Education Service.

To avoid repeating these mistakes, Labour will not try to reinvent the wheel. We will, quite simply, correct the historic neglect of the further education sector, our main existing provider of vocational and adult education, by finally giving the sector the investment in teachers and facilities it deserves.

As well as making all courses free at the point of use, this will ensure that the sector continues to be a world-leading provider of adult and vocational education.

This commitment is part of our National Education Service, which will be founded on the belief that education is a public good. Our businesses, large and small, will prosper on the back of skills and training finally being given serious attention by a serious government. And for Britain's workforce, learning is a ticket not just out of poverty but also out of isolation and loneliness that many of us will face at some point in our lives.

As we approach this landmark General Election, only Labour will build an education system accessible to everyone, not just the privileged few. The 1945 Labour Government created one of the pillars of British society by founding the National Health Service, a towering achievement equal to the challenges of the 20th Century and beyond. The 2017 Labour Government's National Education Service will do this for the 21st Century.

Angela Rayner is the Shadow Education Secretary and Labour candidate for Ashton-under-Lyne

Rebecca Long-Bailey is Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Labour candidate for Salford and Eccles