Union Learning Fund — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:18 am on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South 10:18 am, 18th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood for securing this honourable and important debate. I am proud to be a trade unionist and to have the support of trade unions, and I declare an interest: I am a member of Unite the union.

It is through trade unions that working people advance our collective interests, from winning rights and better pay at work to building up our skills and talents. That is what the union learning fund is all about. Every year it supports 200,000 workers, enhancing literacy, numeracy, ICT skills and professional development, amongst much else. As hon. Friends have said, it is a proven success. A 2018 evaluation found that for every £1 spent on the scheme, workers gained £7.60 in better pay, employers gained £4.70 through higher productivity and the Government gained £3.57 from social security savings and revenue gains. That is why it is not only workers who back it, but businesses like Tata Steel. The fund pays for itself and enriches everyone else. It was needed in normal times, never mind times like these, when Britain has entered the worst recession on record, unemployment is surging to levels not seen in decades and the climate emergency is already with us. While people are losing their jobs in record numbers, work needs to be done. Our public services are in ruin: 10 years of Tory cuts have brought them to their knees. We need to build them up, skilling workers along the way, from the care sector to education to the NHS.

Our society is hooked on deadly fossil fuels. We need to break that addiction, decarbonising our economy with a green new deal, training and investing in our young people, so that instead of being trapped in unemployment, they are building the wind turbines that we need to power our country forward, building the clean public transport that is fit for the future, and retrofitting our country’s homes to reduce energy bills and emissions. There is work to be done, and it is the Government’s job to see that it is done. That is why, instead of scrapping the union learning fund, we should be investing in and expanding it.

Government Members like to pretend that they are the champions of the working class, but when it comes to concrete policies, such as the self-organised training of working people or feeding working-class kids during the school holidays, that façade vanishes and they show their true colours. However, they could prove me wrong and I would be very happy if they did. So, instead of their claiming the mantle of supporting working people only when it means pitting white working-class people against poor black and brown working-class people, I urge them to stand up for all working-class people, by committing to maintaining and expanding the union learning fund.