TUC Consultation Response
The TUC is the umbrella body for 58 affiliated trade unions representing 6.2 million workers in Britain. The TUC has an interest in young people's access to education and training and campaigns for equality of access to training opportunities both in and out of the workplace. The TUC represents all of the major teaching unions - ranging from Early Years education to Further and Higher Education.
The Department for Education has said that there is insufficient funding to continue running the Care to Learn scheme as it currently stands. The DfE has set out four proposals including giving schools, colleges and training providers responsibility for delivering the fund on a discretionary basis, means testing young people applying for the grant, reducing the value of the grant, and ceasing to offer the grant to 19 year olds.
The DfE has stated that limiting eligibility for Care to Learn to those aged 18 or under at the beginning of their course is the government's preferred option. It has also come to the TUC's attention that the government has stated elsewhere that childcare for 19 year olds will come under the Discretionary Learner Support budget from 2012/13. This suggests that the outcome of the consultation has already been decided.
The TUC would also like to register its dismay at the unusually short consultation period allowed for this consultation. At eight weeks, this is considerably shorter than the minimum period recommended by the Code of Practice on Consultation which states that 'Consultations should normally last for at least 12 weeks with consideration given to longer timescales where feasible and sensible'.
This consultation response sets out the views of the TUC in relation to the proposed options for reforming the Care to Learn grant.
Background to the Care to Learn scheme
The Care to Learn grant was introduced in 2004 with the aim of narrowing education inequalities and encouraging more young mothers into education, employment and training. In 2008/09, 8,000 young parents claimed Care to Learn to enable them to continue their education.
A report by the Young People's Learning Agency (YPLA) in 2010 found that Care to Learn was extremely effective in enabling young parents to undertake training or learning opportunities.
The success rate for the Care to Learn cohort surveyed was comparable to the national success rate for Further Education. A remarkable fact given that these students would not only be facing the pressures and time demands of academic or vocational study but also the considerable pressures and time demands of caring for young children.
The TUC's response
The DfE consultation document sets out four different proposals. Unfortunately, the TUC is unable to support any of the four proposals set out as it believes that all would be to the detriment of young learners.
The reasons why each proposal is unacceptable to the TUC are set out below.
Option one is to deliver childcare support through a discretionary scheme operated by schools, colleges and training providers. The TUC cannot support this proposal as it would clearly lead to a postcode lottery of provision. The decision to give financial support for childcare to a student would be based on other pressures on the provider's budget rather than on the need of the individual. The consultation document itself identifies that 'The offer to teenage parents would be likely to vary by provider, making it harder for teenage parents...to understand what support is available. In addition, allocating funds at the level of the individual provider may reduce scope to respond to need, as small fluctuations in the numbers of teenage parents participating at particular providers would have a large impact on demand'.
The TUC rejects this option.
Option two is to means test eligibility for Care to Learn. Given that a recent Daycare Trust report found that one quarter of parents living in poverty had not been able to access training or education because of the cost of childcare, and another Daycare Trust report earlier this year found that the average cost for 25 hours of childcare per week for a child under two years old is £5,000, we know that childcare costs are prohibitively high for all parents, even older parents in paid employment. Teenage parents are more likely to come from deprived socioeconomic backgrounds.
Given the high cost of childcare and the high incidence of poverty and deprivation amongst teenage parents, it seems unlikely that means testing would result in significantly fewer teenage parents claiming Care to Learn.
The consultation document itself notes that 70% of Care to Learn recipients are already in receipt of benefits which would indicate that it is already well targeted. Furthermore, the administrative cost of introducing means testing would outweigh any savings made through a more targeted approach.
The TUC rejects this option.
The third option is to reduce the maximum weekly amount payable. The TUC strongly disagrees with this option on the basis that the bursary given is already insufficient to meet childcare costs. Care to Learn is meant to cover both childcare and travel costs. If we take the Daycare Trust's average weekly cost of a full time nursery place for a child under two in London £226 and add the cost of a student discount Oyster card (£27.50 for a Zones 1-4 weekly Oyster card for students aged 18+), we can see that a teenage parent may well be paying in excess of £250 per week in travel and childcare. The £175 per week currently granted to teenage parents in London under the Care to Learn scheme falls significantly short of the real costs of childcare and travel.
Reducing the maximum amount payable would simply exclude many young parents from training and education.
The TUC rejects this option.
The final option is to limit eligibility for Care to Learn to those under the age of 18 at the beginning of their course. While the TUC recognisees this option has the benefit of 'neatness' in that learning for 19 year olds is funded through BIS rather than DfE, this option nonetheless will lead to fewer teenage parents being able to access further education or training and it will represent a significant cut in government expenditure on supporting teenage parents.
The TUC contends that the Discretionary Learner Support budget is no substitute for Care to Learn and would not be sufficient to prevent many teenagers from dropping out of the education system.
A teenager who has the misfortune to have turned 19 before the start of their course (perhaps because they took a year out of full time education to have a baby, for instance) would face the following disadvantages compared to a teenager who is still eligible for Care to Learn:
1. A bursary too meagre to cover childcare costs
The average Discretionary Learner Support grant paid for a full time student's childcare costs is £39.50 per week - an amount that would not buy even one day's childcare in many parts of the country.
Furthermore, Care to Learn also covers nursery registration fees (up to £80) or deposit (up to £250), a childcare 'taster' (up to five days), retainer fees to keep a childcare place open over summer holidays, and additional travel costs incurred taking a child from home to the childcare provider.
A learner receiving the Discretionary Learner Support grant may not receive help towards any of these additional costs.
2. Means testing
Discretionary Learner Support may also be means tested which will further limit the number of learners who might benefit from childcare support.
3. No guarantee of funding at all
There is also the risk that a 19 year old parent would not receive any funding at all towards childcare if this option were to be adopted. Colleges determine priority groups and maximum amounts of Discretionary Learner Support grants to be allocated. This means that the amounts available, and the way funds are allocated, may differ between institutions. There is often a cap on the amount of childcare funding available within one college. So a 19 year old may find that they are refused childcare support because the college has already allocated the maximum amount for that year.
This is supported by research by the Daycare Trust which found that the Discretionary Learner Support Fund all too often failed students with childcare needs. The report outlined the following problems:
- Uncertainty of funding - learners rarely know whether they will receive funding before they start a course, making it hard to make a decision about studying.
- Full costs are not always covered
- Childcare allocations to colleges are insufficient - and often allocated to learners on a first come, first served basis, meaning many learners lose out.
- Many colleges do not pay for childcare for personal study time.
- Limited time to arrange childcare - because a learner does not apply for the funding until they have enrolled on the course (often the first week of term) they do not have time to arrange the childcare. Many childcare providers have year long waiting lists.
- Many learners may be excluded - some colleges only fund those on Income Support, meaning other low income parents may miss out.
- Lack of funding for deposits
Given that the importance of supporting teenage parents into education, training and employment, closing Care to Learn to 19 year olds would be an arbitrary and retrograde step.
The TUC therefore rejects this option.
In the past decade Britain has made great strides in reducing the number of teen pregnancies. Teenage pregnancies are now at the lowest level in 30 years - arguably as a result of the government's 10 year Teenage Pregnancy Strategy and the work of the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group. One of the key planks of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy and the work of the TPIAG was to combat the intergenerational cycle of poverty and exclusion that is linked to teenage pregnancy by improving access to learning and training for teenage mothers. TPIAG's 2009 Annual Report stated that:
'The Government's Care2Learn scheme, which provides grants for childcare, has played an essential role in many young parents' access to education and training. This welcome scheme now needs to be reviewed and increased because it is failing to cover costs. There is a risk young parents will be deterred from studying or training. The long term funding of this scheme needs to be increased and secured and be consistent with childcare allowances in other DCSF policies and to support young parents as the education participation age increases.'
The government itself acknowledges the importance of education and training as a route into paid employment and as a means of tackling socioeconomic exclusion for teenage parents. In a briefing paper on the Department for Education's website, the government stated this year that:
'Stopping families from falling into poverty by providing support for teenage parents to increase their employability through access to education, training and employment (ETE). Paid employment is the single most important factor in reducing the risk of poverty. Reducing barriers to ETE is key to this, in particular ensuring the availability of rolling and introductory programmes of study which have flexible hours and take account of the demands of caring for a child, childcare which is flexible and non-judgemental, as well as accessible transport etc.'
The government's latest Teenage Pregnancy Strategy recognises the success of Care to Learn in improving outcomes for teenage parents. It cites an independent study of Care to Learn which found that:
'Seventy three per cent of teenage parents said they could not have gone into any learning without Care to Learn support and 75 per cent gained a full or partial qualification from their course. Overall, only 27 per cent of Care to Learn recipients were NEET at the time of interview, compared with 66 per cent before taking a course'
At a time when the number of young people who are NEET (not in education, employment or training) is rising, and the number of young women who are NEET continues to outstrip the number of young men who are NEET, the TUC contends that the government can ill afford to decrease funding for Care to Learn.
If it is true that 'teenage pregnancy remains a priority for the Coalition Government' then it is imperative that funding for Care to Learn is increased to ensure that all teenage parents - not just those under 19 - are given the support that they need to access education, training and employment.
The TUC therefore rejects all four proposals set out in this consultation document and strongly urges the government to reconsider its plans to cut funding for teenage parents. Instead the TUC would urge the government to build upon the success of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy by ensuring that all schools - including free schools and academies - deliver high quality PSHE and SRE and by investing in schemes such as Care to Learn which enable young parents to gain qualifications and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and social exclusion.
The Impact of Care to Learn: tracking the destinations of young parents funded in 2008/09, 2007/08 and 2006/07, YPLA October 2010
Making Work Pay - The Daycare Trust 2011 http://www.daycaretrust.org.uk/data/files/Research/making_work_pay.pdf
Annual Childcare Costs Survey - The Daycare Trust 2011 http://www.daycaretrust.org.uk/news.php?id=43
£160 a week outside of London. The example of London has been given simply because the costs of childcare and transport are so strikingly high in London - so much so that even with the additional £15 of Care to Learn funding, many young parents will still struggle to cover their costs.
Ending in 2010
Abolished in 2010
Impact of Care to Learn: tracking the destinations of young parents funded in
2006/07 and 2007/08, Vaid, L, Bell, L, Mavra L, Sims L - Centre for Economic and
Social Inclusion and Learning and Skills Council (2009)
Teenage Pregnancy Strategy: Beyond 2010 - DCSF and Department of Health 2010 http://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/downloadableDocs/4287_Teenage%20pregnancy%20strategy_aw8.pdf
Quarter 2 2011, 21.5% of female 18-24 year olds were NEET as compared to 15.4% of male 18-24 year olds. Source: ONS
Issued: 20 October, 2011