Here We Go Again

I’ve written before about the inherent problem with instituting an adult education requirement in order to qualify for a government benefit (as have others), but in light of this recent Labour proposal in the U.K., it’s worth repeating the basic problem with this kind of proposal: it’s only fair, and only works as policy, if access to adult education is free and universal. There are other problems, potentially, with adding new requirements to benefits already earned (which is the case with unemployment benefits in the U.S.) but such proposals are fundamentally flawed at the start if a lack of available adult education opportunities make the education requirement impossible for beneficiaries to meet. If Labour is also proposing a massive new investment in adult education and training (and I mean truly massive), that’s one thing, but it’s not clear from this piece in The Telegraph  that such an investment would be accompanying the new education requirement in their proposal:

People receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance would be forced to sit a basic skills test within six weeks of signing on or face being stripped of their benefits, Labour will say, in a move designed to challenge the Tory’s popular welfare policies.

Anyone who does not show basic competency in literacy, numeracy and IT will be sent on training programmes.

Labour believes that around 300,000 people could be sent on courses every year. If they refuse, they will be denied welfare.

Maybe I’m completely uninformed, and the U.K. has 300,000 empty seats in their adult education and training programs. But if not, I’m not sure how this plan is supposed to work.

Note also that expanding a system to accommodate 300,000 more learners is not just a question of pumping more money into programs. To achieve anything close to universal access to adult education, you’d have to think through a strategy that puts in place some combination of physical program and/or on-line learning that is distributed in such a way that it is truly accessible by all, and you’d also have to figure out some way to ensure that individuals could carve out the time and distraction-free space to successfully engage in learning (all of which might require additional investments in broadband access, transportation, and childcare—just to name three examples).