During the biggest economic and employment crisis in a generation, we must save union learning

With redundancies rising, the need to retrain and upskill has never been greater

Earlier this week I was dismayed and angry when I heard of the government’s decision to scrap the Union Learning Fund, it makes absolutely no sense. Since its introduction over 20 years ago, the fund has helped workers across many sectors improve their employment prospects through workplace learning. With proven results, it is the cheapest and most effective method of adult education that the government funds and is vital to improving outcomes and reducing inequality. The pandemic leaves us walking into the biggest economic and employment crisis in a generation, and the need to upskill and retrain has never been greater. They must reconsider their decision, and I urge you to join me in signing the TUC’s petition calling on them to do so.

As Covid-19 continues to rip through communities, the economic impact of local lockdowns on these communities is harsh and exposes a real north/south divide that the government promised to fix. Rather than the ‘levelling up’ promised by Johnson in his election campaign last year, it’s now a race to the bottom for our northern colleagues, with inadequate government support to keep already struggling families going. I commend the Mayor of Great Manchester, Andy Burnham, for his stance to protect the livelihood of people in the region.

Let us not forget, that no matter what is happening in the north this week, cases are rising in every region of the UK, and the SAGE advice of a short, sharp national lockdown is likely the best course of action to curb the exponential growth of the virus. Every day that this is delayed costs lives. With the school half-term beginning this weekend, surely the time for that is now? As the four nations of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England come up with varying ‘fire breaker’ and ‘circuit breaker’ solutions, there is a need for a single and united effort across the United Kingdom. The Government under Johnson has lost the faith and trust of the people, to keep us safe and the sense that we are all in this together really is fanciful.

On a more positive note it was fantastic to see so many people take part in Show Racism the Red Card’s ‘Wear Red Day’ last week, with UNISON branches and staff groups organising online photocalls along with raising vital funds for the anti-racism education programme. I’m proud of our union’s continued support for this great initiative, and firmly believe that education is key to eradicating racism in society.

Next week will see ballot papers start to arrive in letterboxes of UNISON members around the country, as the election period opens for the General Secretary election. Please encourage members in your branches to use their vote, and help spread the word by sharing our new video on your social media accounts.

Next week will also see health branches gearing up for another 2 days of campaigning for a £2k pay rise across all NHS bands. You can help by writing to your MP today, to ask them to support UNISON’s pay claim, that will make a huge difference to NHS staff as they continue their incredible work during the pandemic.

As we head into the toughest months of the pandemic so far, I am aware that many UNISON members will be struggling with job insecurity and the financial worries this brings.  Our charity ‘There For You’ is a valuable source of support to many members, and I encourage branches to make a donation to support There For You’s Covid-19 fund.

At the time of writing, news has just broken of the Chancellor’s new revised job retention scheme, which makes it more attractive and easier for employers to keep workers in employment ready to resume work when we emerge from this nightmare. I’m still working through the details of the new scheme; however, any increase will be welcome to workers and hopefully make the difference between employment and unemployment for many.

Thank you for all that you do to keep communities going through this.

Keep yourselves, colleagues and your families safe.