If you want to be educated don’t be poor, don’t be from an ethnic minority, don’t be disabled and don’t be a woman. That’s essentially the message from new research by the Association of Colleges (AoC) published today which showed that 250,000 people currently on benefits could be priced out of education.

A survey from the AoC showed that fully three-quarters of those affected by the changes to adult education, which remove free eduction from anyone on ‘inactive’ benefits, that is on income support, working families tax credit or housing benefit, will be women. The survey also showed that people from ethnic minority backgrounds and disabled people are likely to be badly affected, with 33,000 disabled people likely to lose funding and, in London, ethnic minorities representing 67% of those hit by the changes.

In response to the findings UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said:

‘The AoC should be congratulated for trying to get to the bottom of how many people will lose access to education under the government’s changes to the benefits system. The most shocking element here is that the government is pushing ahead with these changes, despite not knowing itself what the damage will be.

‘The AoC estimates that around a quarter of a million will miss out, but other experts have put the figure as high as 300,000. It looks as though women and lone parents will be amongst those hit the hardest. There is no logical reason for denying people on benefits access to the one thing that is likely to improve their life chances and get them off benefits.

‘The government should be making radical changes to help people into education, not slashing their benefits to give them less chance of acquiring the skills needed to get them back in the jobs market. The government cannot simply push ahead with plans that will punish those who most need help, and that will do little to alleviate the burden on taxpayers, when it doesn’t know what their full impact will be.’

At a time when there are 5 people unemployed for every vacancy, and as we move towards an economy which relies ever more on people having taken tertiary education to succeed it seems incredible that the government are making these sort of changes. Changes which make a mockery of any ostensible commitment to meritocracy by the government or to help people to improve their own lives. Adult education may not be as exciting a topic as fees and may not have as many advocates with the time to devote to its cause but this deserves to be an issue with far wider publicity.