HC Deb 27 July 1982 vol 28 cc932-3

4.4 pm

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require all local education authorities to provide adult education for persons registered as unemployed; and for connected purposes. I shall preface my remarks by making reference to the present economic situation, bearing in mind its effect on education, particularly adult education. Over 3 million people are unemployed. We are constantly told by Treasury Ministers that that figure will increase as time goes by. Therefore, the situation becomes worse.

Because of the problems of adult education, we saw fit to organise a body of hon. Members from all parties to meet regularly and discuss adult education. We were concerned about the breaking down and destruction of adult education. Across the country many representations have been made to that body. Many educational bodies throughout the country have made representations to me. I received a letter from the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit. I shall quote from it to put the matter in perspective.

It states: The estimated number of adults (16+) who are considered `functionally illiterate' is 2 million (6%) and this is considered to be a conservative estimate … As far as numeracy is concerned a recent Gallup Poll sponsored by the Advisory Council on Adult and Continuing Education found that one in ten could not cope with simple addition, three in ten could not cope with simple subtraction, multiplication and division, three in ten could not cope with simple percentages or a simple graph and four in ten cannot cope with a simple timetable. That spells out what is happening, what should be happening and where we should direct our finance in the interests of the adults of tomorrow. I recognise that there is the new training initiative. However, it does not come in until September 1983. The Prime Minister, at Question Time, said that many youngsters who have been out of school for a year have not yet found a job. At least in September 1983 some youngsters will benefit under the new training initiative. The Secretary of State for Employment told us that all school leavers will enjoy 12 months' training under that scheme.

However, we must consider the other side of the coin. In my constituency, as well as in others, many adults are illiterate. I mentioned the figures. The Government have a duty to do something about that problem.

Last year Her Majesty's Inspectorate published a report on education with particular reference to adult education. It made a scathing attack on the Government for their destruction of adult education. The Government should be ashamed of what they have done to adult education. I hope that the Government are taking note of what I am saying today so that we can make some progress and give some of the people who are now standing in the dole queues every week the opportunity to get away from their illiteracy and be prepared for the future.

We are constantly told that the economy will pick up. We shall need workers in future, but they must be able to read and write. If not, they will be sent away when they apply for jobs. That happens frequently. The Government have betrayed the present generation of youngsters. They have also betrayed the generation before them who form today's dole queues. They will continue to stand there until the Government change direction.

The community enterprise programme has been mentioned. The Chancellor of the Exchequer goes on television and the radio and stands at the Dispatch Box and proudly talks about the community enterprise programme and its extension in the future. He should listen to what some people concerned with adult education say about how that programme will help. They say that it is nowhere near sufficient to provide the necessary services for the people who need them. It is high time that the Chancellor and the Government went in a different direction. We are told that there is to be an extension of the CEP, but it will help only about one-eighth of the unemployed for 12 months.

Adult education has been squeezed and squeezed again. The Government now have the opportunity to provide finance to help people who will not be helped by the other schemes that have been mentioned recently. The system already exists. I get around Britain and I have seen the problem in my constituency and elsewhere. Most people are aware of the existence of adult education units. There are already people running those services. We must give those who will benefit from adult education the chance to better themselves.

There is a scandal in all this. I give the example of what happened to a 21-year-old. I do not doubt that the same is true for others. She applied for an adult education course. She was unemployed but, because she had not signed on, she was disqualified from benefit. That is an example of how the Government carry on. It is time that they changed their mind on such matters. They are hitting the people who canot help themselves. The Prime Minister constantly tells us that the Government are supposed to help such people, but they are crucifying them.

Early-day motion 653, which relates to this problem, states: That this House is dismayed to learn that unemployed adults are unable to participate in part-time adult education courses whilst retaining their full entitlement to unemployment benefit and urges the Government to rectify this before the beginning of the next academic year, by a similar procedure to that used in respect of the 21-hour rule in the supplementary benefit system for unemployed young people. I hope that many hon. Members, including Conservative Members, will sign that motion urging that the present situation be changed.

The system exists and the workers are there. We should give people the opportunity to make good use of the adult education system. It will help them in the future. At the same time, it will help the nation to face and overcome the difficulties that have been created by the Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Frank Haynes, Mr. Jack Dormand, Mr. Derek Foster, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Stanley Newens, Mr. Ray Powell and Mr. George Foulkes.

  1. ADULT EDUCATION 52 words