Standing on the edge of the deepest recession in a century, you’d be forgiven for thinking the government would be scrambling around for ways to kickstart the economy and promote economic growth.
You’d think it would cherish the kind of programme where every £1 invested put £12.30 back into workers and businesses. A programme that has contributed more than £1.4bn to the economy through boosts in jobs, wages and productivity. A programme that saves the Treasury money through reduced benefit payments.
Sadly, you’d be wrong.
Spurred on by a seething class hatred of all things trade union, the Tory government has announced it’s closing just such a programme, the Union Learning Fund, from March.
Of course the value of the Union Learning Fund can’t really be summed up by a balance sheet of its contribution to the economy.
Hundreds of thousands of workers access workplace training thanks to the fund each year. The type of training that will help create and sustain the skilled workforce that the country needs to recover from the current crisis. However, this doesn’t just give them more skills to do their jobs, it gives them more self-respect, more pride and more dignity.
Improved literacy means being able to read your children a bedtime story. Improved numeracy means being able to help them with their homework. Improved computer skills allow you to really be a part of society.
Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson should be celebrating this mutually beneficial partnership with trade unions. It was only a few months ago that the government was praising the TUC for helping it devise the furlough scheme and introduce new systems of Covid-19 safe working across the economy.
However that’s clearly all forgotten now and instead they’ve spotted a chance to distract from their catastrophic handling of the pandemic. We have the misfortune of having a government that is disinterested in evidence based policy making.
This week they have started fights with the EU, Mayor of Manchester, Transport for London and various archbishops. Its all about diverting the news agenda away from their own incompetence.
Unions have had their hands full ensuring schools reopen safely, preventing the crisis in social care spiralling further out of control, making sure health staff have enough PPE.
But even if the government forces us to fight another battle, UNISON, the TUC and all its unions will continue to stand up for trade union learning.
Please do your bit by signing the petition.
You can visit UNISON’s campaign page, where you can share your own stories of the ULF, here.