The UK government’s apprenticeship scheme has been slammed for failing to help those disadvantaged youngsters who require assistance the most, and new figures reveal evidence of the problems created by wages far below the national minimum.
The government says that it will create around three million apprenticeships over the next three years. This would mean that 2.3% or more of all staff working for English public bodies should be apprentices by 2020. However, many young people will be unable to take advantage of these opportunities because of a lack of financial support.
The government has announced that it will recruit a further 200,000 apprentices, to help to fulfil new targets aimed at transforming the public sector and creating ‘quality’ career opportunities within public services. This is supposed to benefit thousands of people, offering them opportunities to develop or launch careers in local government services, the police or the NHS, but this may not happen, according to some experts.
The apprenticeship scheme is attracting criticism, as it does not solve underlying issues being faced by the same youngsters it is supposed to help. The criticism revolves around the amount of money paid to apprentices. Those under 19 or those working in their first 12 months of their apprenticeship are only entitled to pay of £3.40 an hour.
This figure means that young people who cannot claim benefits or who don’t have parental support, cannot afford to take advantage of the apprenticeship scheme. Classified neither as a worker nor a student, apprentices fall through the gaps in the social safety net. Not being workers, they are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage, and, not being students, they cannot access student loans, discounts and services.
As apprentices, rather than workers, these people do not qualify to receive the National Minimum Wage but are also not eligible for student benefits such as loans, special bank accounts and discounted travel. Parents, too, can face losing out financially, as their tax credits and child benefit may be withdrawn, as apprentices are not classed as being in education even if they attend classes and study to achieve vocational qualifications.
These concerns seem to be backed up by new figures released by the Social Mobility Commission (SMC). This government data reveals that only ten per cent of all apprenticeship positions are filled by young people who qualify for free school meals, even though this demographic accounts for 13 per cent of children in schools.
The NUS also pointed out the scheme’s pitfalls in a report in 2015, claiming that the opportunity of vocational education is being ‘systematically’ denied to young people because of financial constraints. The NUS slammed the wage paid to apprentices as exploitative and called for them to be eligible to receive the National Minimum Wage.
The government did go on to raise apprentices’ wages by 20%, increasing them to £3.40 from £2.73, but many believe that this is still not enough to allow disadvantaged young people to take part in the scheme. As the latest SMC figures were released, the commission’s chair, Alan Milburn, said that the government needed to act to stop a ‘class gap’ from forming and to offer opportunities regardless of financial limitations.
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