Literacy in the Workforce Debate

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Department: Department for Education
Tuesday 25th April 2017

(7 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Baroness Rebuck Portrait Baroness Rebuck
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve standards of literacy in the workforce.

Baroness Rebuck Portrait Baroness Rebuck (Lab)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare my interests as listed in the register.

Lord Nash Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Lord Nash) (Con)
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My Lords, we know that strong literacy skills are fundamental to people’s education and employment prospects. That is why we have taken steps to improve literacy standards for people in the workforce by embedding English into our major education and work-based training programmes. We are also providing full funding for adults to access free English courses up to the equivalent level of GCSE, supporting community and workplace programmes, and working to improve the quality of English teaching for adults.

Baroness Rebuck Portrait Baroness Rebuck
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I thank the Minister for that Answer, but 9 million adults in England suffer from poor literacy and would struggle to send a simple email or fill in a basic job application form. The CBI’s 2015 business survey shockingly showed that the problem was getting worse, not better. Some 50% of businesses reported a workforce literacy deficit, up from 40% in 2009. The Learning and Work Institute and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimate that an extra £200 million needs to be spent on adult literacy every year to ensure that by 2030 all adults will have sufficient basic skills. Communication, numeracy and digital skills all depend on literacy, so does the Minister agree that scaling up local literacy interventions in the 100 worst-performing constituencies, as identified by the National Literacy Trust and Experian, is a prerequisite to fulfilling the post-Brexit industrial policy? Would he agree to prioritise adult literacy—this is an important question—and provide the necessary funds to address this chronic and worsening problem?

Noble Lords: Too long!

Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash
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The noble Baroness is absolutely right to highlight this important issue, which is why we are increasing funding for adult skills participation by 40% from 2015-16 to 2019-20. We have integrated English study requirements into 16-18 education, future technical routes and apprenticeships, and we are working closely with employers to ensure that courses and qualifications meet their needs. I also agree with the point the noble Baroness makes about the importance of local provision, which is what our focus on opportunity areas and the importance of a local offer is all about.