A great deal of print and time has been spent on assessing the sweeping commitment of the current UK Government, to plough forward with Welfare Reform in the UK. This has been pushed home through the Welfare Reform Act 2016, with many esteemed commentators focusing on the benefit cap.

However, for the positive thinking amongst us, it was the commitment to the creation of 3 million apprentices by 2020 that caught the attention. It represented the commitment of the then David Cameron led, Conservative Party 2015 election manifesto pledge that has now been ratified in Section 2 of the above act.

This places a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to report annually on the Government's progress towards achieving this target.

A post Welfare Reform Act 2016 response

A recent House of Commons Briefing Paper (published 17th November 2016) compiled by James Mirza-Davies fulfils, in some way, the obligations of reporting on the progress towards the laudable 3 million target. It further dispels a common myth that Apprenticeships are only for young people (under 24), also highlighting the commitment to learning for such apprenticeships:

Apprentices must spend at least 280 hours in ‘guided learning’ in their first year.”

However, this paper tends to skirt around the key issues. What many would like to see regarding the success of what is arguably the saving grace of the recent Welfare Reform legislation.

Is, firstly what the current position actually is, how many apprentices there actually are and how we go from the status quo to this impressive figure of 3 million?

Data presented by the Department for Education and the Skills Funding Agency, shows that in England the total apprenticeships for 2015/16 reached 899,400. The North West continues to lead the way on 141,000 (15.68%).

This suggests there is still a way to go to reach this target and, there is not exactly a plethora of evidence stated to show what happens when the 3 million have completed their apprenticeships?

In-Work Poverty

The above reports show a commitment to minimum pay for apprentices, starting at £3.40 an hour for 16-18 year olds and the same for those over 19 in the first year of their apprenticeship.

A perspective check can be found in the fact that the first ever National Minimum Wage was £3.60p when introduced in 1999. Therefore, without apprenticeships leading to much higher paid jobs almost immediately, although reducing the unemployment figure - it is not necessarily tackling the increasing poverty problem, exacerbated by increased housing and living costs.

What’s the Government doing to encourage people to increase earnings whilst in work?

In a nutshell, there are measures initiated by the Welfare Reform Act 2016 that seeks to encourage/promote those in work to enhance their Earnings:

    • Commitment to increase the personal allowance (income tax) to £12,500 by end of parliament ( 2017 £11,500) and £50,000 before you pay the higher rate of income tax = 50%

    • Freezing of standard benefit rates e.g. Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit, looking to ensure that benefits don’t increase at a higher rate than earnings

    • Expectation for claimants to increase their earnings when claiming a Universal Credit entitlement


Future reports on the apprenticeship target need to factor in these considerations. Otherwise, the aim/target will merely become a one-step ladder.