Plans to axe the Union Learning Fund, which has helped thousands of people to gain new skills for the workplace, has been branded as ‘short-sighted and self-defeating’ by Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, today (Monday 19 October).

Unite is strongly supporting the TUC’s Save Union Learning campaign, following the shock announcement by the Department of Education to axe the £12 million-a-year programme in March next year.

Unite said that at a time when tens of thousands of workers had lost their jobs or under threat of losing them because of the economic devastation caused by the pandemic, cutting training schemes were the last thing ministers should be contemplating.

The union also said that the decision by controversial education secretary Gavin Williamson flew in the face of the prime minister Boris Johnson’s pledge last month to boost training for all through a national skills fund.

Unite director of education Jim Mowatt said: “At a time when the job queues are lengthening by the day due to the ravaging economic impact of Covid-19, the last thing the government should be doing is ending the Union Learning Fund which supported 200,000 learners acquire new skills, such as basic English and IT skills, in the last year alone.

“The plan to axe the scheme is short-sighted and self-defeating when there is a national crisis, as businesses close and companies shed jobs.

“The announcement from the education department seems to contradict the prime minister’s own promise that funding will be available for everyone to get a qualification at level 3 – the equivalent of A-levels – through a national skills fund.

“Boris Johnson’s oft-repeated mantra to ‘level up’ the disadvantaged regions of the UK will need every training lever at his disposal, including the continuation of the Union Learning Fund. By axing the fund, the prime minister’s pledge will be seriously compromised and undermined.

“We should be looking forward to a post-pandemic economic world; when a country’s skill base will provide the foundation for economic regeneration, the growth in employment opportunities and increased prosperity for all.

“A skilled workforce is the lifeblood that will spearhead the UK’s economic future in this new and changing global economy, when education and training will be at a premium.

“That’s why the Union Learning Fund should remain as an important pillar of the UK’s overall training programme – we call for the proposal to axe the fund to be rescinded immediately.”


Notes to editors:

The Union Learning Fund (ULF) was set up in 1998 and has been supported by governments of all parties. It increases access to learning and training in workplaces, brokered by unions. In 2019-20, it supported 200,000 learners – both union members and non-members.

The TUC has produced this short briefing note with all the key information on the Union Learning Fund:

Those people wishing to show their solidarity are urged to sign the petition accessed via the link below:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065.

Please note the numbers above are for journalists’ enquiries only.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: 

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.