How the Union Learning Fund changes lives

UNISON members extol the virtues of a scheme that has boosted their work, their careers and their self-confidence – but is currently under threat

“Without union learning, I wouldn’t have gained the confidence to approach managers and headteachers to discuss issues within the workplace. And it has helped me encourage others to take up suitable learning to further their opportunities.”

Hasmita Dhamelia (pictured) was speaking after the government in Westminster announced that it intends to scrap the Union Learning Fund (ULF) from next March.

For 20 years the fund has enabled working people to acquire learning opportunities and skills training they’d otherwise have no access to, with courses directly relevant to the workplace and supported by funding from the government.

UNISON is calling on the government to pull back from its plan to scrap the fund in England, saying that the decision makes no sense.

A teaching assistant in Leicester, Hasmita has completed a wide range of learning through UNISON, with the help of the fund.

“Union learning has helped me in many ways. It’s raised my confidence to approach online learning. It’s let me learn in my own time – at home, away from work – without worrying about how much will it cost. It gave me choices of subjects that would benefit me in my workplace – for instance, in learning Makaton and using this sign language with children.”

Hasmita has no qualms about saying that the government should continue supporting the Union Learning Fund, so that it can continue to help all those who would otherwise not be able to afford to better themselves.

“We do not earn a lot – unlike government ministers – yet work very hard to make ends meet. The fund helps people like me to take a step further, using it to educate ourselves and become great role models for our children – so they don’t fall into the same trap as those not having had that opportunity.”

Instrumental in making education accessible

Sia Livingstone is a social worker in London, currently completing a Masters at Birkbeck, University of London, with the help of the fee discount negotiated by unionlearn, the learning and skills arm of the TUC that manages the fund.

“When I enrolled on my postgraduate degree from Birkbeck, the unionlearn discount through the ULF eased the financial pressure of being a full-time student, so that I could focus my energies on my studies.

“When money is tight, any contribution can make all the difference between being able to afford expensive textbooks, pursuing studies or dropping out to be able to pay the rent that month.

“Studying for my degree has expanded my knowledge upon key social issues, so that I can provide better help to children and families as a qualified social worker.”

Like Hasmita, studying has given Sia new confidence. “When I graduate, I will seek out career challenges which I would have previously shied away from. I will have a career pathway into social research, whether working in the civil service, the voluntary sector or within academia.

“Having the opportunity to do an MSc in social research has also meant that I will be highly employable, with both qualitative and quantitative research skills. As a mature student improving my digital skills and advanced statistical analysis will enhance my career versatility.”

Sia adds: “As a Black female member of UNISON, I feel very strongly that the government should maintain the Union Learning Fund. This funding is instrumental in making education accessible to all corners of the British community, including those who are under-represented or underprivileged.

“Such funding for on-the-job training and education can transform the lives of many who face the competitive world of employment, where discrimination can mean less chance of being hired, limited scope for career promotion and growth, as well as poor job satisfaction.”

Learning leads to career progression

Ibrahim Abdikadir is a member of the London Ambulance Service and is currently learning with the help of the fund.

“I’m doing a functional skills maths qualification with the help of the Union Learning Fund and London Ambulance Service UNISON branch. You have to have level 2 English and maths if you want to join the in-house paramedic course, so the course is brilliant for people who need to bridge that gap.

“There are 15 or 16 of us doing the maths course and it really helps to be studying with colleagues who are doing the same job or working for the ambulance service in different roles.

“The course is a massive help – without it, I wouldn’t be able to join the paramedic programme; without it, there would be no career progression.

“I hope the government keeps funding the fund. It helps people with career progression – and better jobs mean higher wages, which means we’ll be helping out in terms of taxation as well. I hope the government doesn’t scrub it completely. It’s a battle everyone has to fight together.”

UNISON is backing the campaign to save the Union Learning Fund in England. The devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all realise the value of the scheme and have made no suggestions that they will do the same as the Westminster government.

Find out more – including further success stories

Sign the TUC’s petition to stop the cuts

Share your story of how union learning has helped you


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