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Labour is promising a £3bn plan to offer adults in England free access to retraining to help their job chances and to tackle skills shortages.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner wants to “throw open the door” to adults wanting to learn new skills.

The Lib Dems are promising a £10,000 training grant for each adult, which it calls a “skills wallet”.

The Conservatives have a National Retraining Scheme for adults needing to update their skills for work.

With concerns about automation threatening jobs and warnings from employers about a lack of skilled staff, the political parties are setting out their stall for adult education and retraining.

‘Too expensive’

The CBI business group welcomed making training a priority, saying: “Adult participation in education is at its lowest for two decades.”

The Edge vocational education charity warned the current skills shortage was costing UK businesses £4.4bn per year.

On Tuesday, Labour’s election campaign will set out its plans to spend an extra £3bn per year to provide free access to vocational learning for adults – which it hopes will reach an extra 300,000 people per year.

Ms Rayner says it will help people “who want to change career, are made redundant or didn’t get the qualifications they needed when they were younger”.

“For many, adult education is too expensive, too time-consuming or too difficult to get into,” she says.

Labour would offer adults up to six years of training, such as for qualifications for working in the healthcare and engineering sectors.

Employees would also have a right to paid time off for education and training and there are promises to improve careers advice for adults.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says education should be “like an escalator running alongside you throughout life, that you can get on and off whenever you want”.

‘Skills wallet’

The Liberal Democrats have put forward their plans for adult education – based on the idea of individuals having a “skills wallet” to pay for training, with government funding being available to be drawn down at different stages of life.

At the age of 25, there would be £4,000 put into the skills wallet, £3,000 at the age of 40 and then £3,000 at the age of 55.

“In an ever changing workplace, people often need to develop new skills but the cost of courses and qualifications shuts too many people out,” Lib Dem business spokesman Sam Gyimah says.

The Conservatives in government have begun to test plans for a National Retraining Scheme, supported by £100m announced in last year’s Budget.

This is intended to help people train for changing jobs and alternative careers if their jobs are threatened by automation.

There are some local pilot tests for the retraining scheme, available to adults without degrees in low-income jobs.

It is scheduled to be rolled out more widely in 2020.

The Conservatives also highlighted their plans for new vocational qualifications, called T-levels.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said Labour was “making promises that it simply won’t be able to fulfil”.

‘Sorely neglected’

But Jo Grady, leader of the UCU lecturers’ union, warned of “steep falls” in numbers of adult students.

“For too many years, adult learning has been a sorely neglected part of our education system,” she said.

Neil Bates, who chairs the Edge vocational educational charity, said employers would want to tackle the £4.4bn cost of skills shortages – and individuals needed to have the skills for “secure, well paid, sustainable jobs”.

Employers have complained of skills shortages and Matthew Fell, the CBI’s chief policy director, said it was important “lifelong learning is rising to the top of the political agenda”.

He said businesses would also welcome support for technical education and giving it a status “on par with academic learning”.

All the parties know their record on adult education is pretty poor, writes Sophie Hutchinson.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, in the past 15 years, overall spending on classroom-based courses has fallen by two-thirds, as have the number of adult learners.

The adult education budget fell by 32% between 2003-04 and 2009-10 under Labour and by a further 47% from 2009-10 to 2018-19 under the coalition and the Conservatives.

Labour now says it would reverse that and more, coming close to doubling the current adult education budget, taking it back to levels similar to 2003.

The Lib Dems also want a boost to lifelong learning – with a “skills wallet” for money for adults to spend on learning.

But there will be a challenge ensuring this is spent on genuine courses – as a previous Individual Learning Account scheme faced widespread fraud.

The Lib Dems are proposing a £10,000 grant for every adult in England to put towards education and training.

The money would go into a “skills wallet” over a period of 30 years, to help with the cost of approved courses.

The party says it would pay for the policy by reversing government cuts to corporation tax – returning the business levy to its 2016 rate of 20%.

The pledge comes at the start of a second week of campaigning ahead of the general election on 12 December.

Labour and the Conservatives are also expected to announce policies to boost lifelong learning.

Labour has proposed a National Education Service, which would be “free at the point of use” and “open to all regardless of age, background or circumstance”.

The Conservatives have a range of initiatives, including a recently-launched National Retraining Scheme, which is aimed at helping adults whose jobs are at risk from automation.

The Lib Dem plan – which would only apply to England as education is devolved to the other nations – would:

  • Put £4,000 into people’s Skills Wallet at the age of 25
  • Add another £3,000 at 40
  • And another £3,000 will be put in at 55

The current cost of tuition fees in England for a university course is up to £9,250 per year.

‘New era’

The party hopes people will then be encouraged to add to the pot, and save more towards the cost of education and training.

Employers and local government will also be able to contribute to the wallets, and free careers advice will be given to people to decide how best to use the funding.

However, the courses will have to be regulated and monitored by the Office for Students.

Lib Dem business spokesman Sam Gyimah said: “In an ever changing workplace people often need to develop new skills, but the cost of courses and qualifications shuts too many people out.”

He said his party would “create a new era of learning” for adults through the plan, and “empower people to develop new skills so that they can thrive in the technologies and industries that are key to the UK’s economic future and prosperity”.

The policy would have to first go through a consultation process and would not come into force until 2021-22.

Participation in government-funded adult further education fell by 3.5% in the first two quarters of 2018-19 on last year’s equivalent figures.

A fifth of young people in the UK have been bullied in the past 12 months, an annual report has found.

Three out of four people who were bullied said it affected their mental health and nearly half became depressed as a result, according to the study by charity Ditch the Label.

These figures were almost identical to those from last year’s survey.

Children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said “more needs to be done” in light of the “worrying” data.

More than 2,000 young people aged between 12 and 20 provided responses for the survey about their experiences of bullying and the impact it has had on their lives in the past year.

It also assessed prejudice-based views including racism, sexism, homophobia, disablism and transphobia in an effort to better understand bullying behaviour.

Ditch the Label is an international charity supporting young people aged 12 to 25 to help tackle the “root issues” around bullying. Its annual survey has become its “flagship” piece of research, chief executive officer Dr Liam Hackett said.

The seventh annual survey found:

  • The most common type of bullying was verbal, with cyberbullying the least common
  • Of those bullied, 33% said that they had suicidal thoughts, while 41% were left feeling anxious
  • Some 62% were bullied by a classmate and 37% by someone at school they did not know
  • Nearly two-thirds (59%) believed attitudes towards their appearance were the likely cause of bullying
  • In the majority of cases, male respondents were more likely to exhibit negative attitudes than females

Ms Longfield said the impact bullying has on children can be “enormous”, affecting their confidence, self-esteem and mental health.

“More needs to be done at home and in schools to help those who are the victims of bullying and also, crucially, to prevent children from bullying in the first place,” she added.

‘No escape’

Some children who were bullied described cyberbullying as a major part of the problem, with one 14-year-old boy adding: “I go to school and get bullied. Go home and online and still get bullied. I can’t ever escape it.”

Others cited teachers’ unhelpful reaction to bullies, with one 15-year-old boy saying his teacher was homophobic: “Whenever anyone in class makes comments, they just laugh and do nothing about it.”

The report comes as analysis of NHS figures suggests the health service cancelled 175,000 mental health appointments for children and young people in the past year.

Mental health charity Mind has published data indicating a 25% increase in the number of cancelled or postponed appointments for young people accessing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

It suggests 175,094 appointments were cancelled or postponed by the NHS service between August 2018 and July 2019 compared with 140,327 in the same period the year before.

Mind said the figures were taken from the NHS Digital Mental Health Services Data Set.

A university is investigating after mistakenly sharing the personal details of about 2,000 students in an email promoting a lecture.

The email from the Creative Arts school at the University of Hertfordshire included an attachment with the recipients’ names and email addresses.

The university said it had contacted the data protection watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office.

It added that it took data protection “extremely seriously”.

“The email was not sent to all students and the incident affected a group of students in one of our schools of study,” it said.

“The relevant students were contacted immediately and the email was recalled.

“We are contacting all affected students with information and advice. We are carrying out an internal investigation and have informed the Information Commissioner’s Office.”

The email, sent on Wednesday morning, informed students about a fine art talk that afternoon with visiting artist Harold Offeh.

Labour is promising to open 1,000 new Sure Start children’s centres in England.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn says he would invest £1bn in the early years centres, as part of a package of childcare support.

The Lib Dems will promise subsidised childcare for working families from when children are nine months old.

The Conservatives say they are already “investing record amounts in high-quality childcare”.

Childcare providers have expressed scepticism at the lack of funding details and warned of an “electoral arms race” on childcare promises.

On a visit to Leeds with shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, Mr Corbyn will promise to open a new generation of Sure Start centres, which provide health, welfare and education services for pre-school children.

‘Positive impact’

According to a report from the Sutton Trust last year, up to 1,000 have closed in the past decade, with funding pressures being blamed.

Labour says it will “reverse the cuts” in the centres which were originally launched when Tony Blair was prime minister.

An analysis from the Institute of Fiscal Studies earlier this year said Sure Start had made a positive impact, with evidence that the health advice had “significantly reduced” the numbers of children being admitted to hospital.

But the financial think tank said it had been a story of a “fast roll-out followed by deep spending cuts”, with spending peaking at £1.8bn in 2010 and then being cut to £600m by 2017-18.

The IFS puts the number of closures at about 500 sites – half the Sutton Trust estimate.

Labour has also restated its commitment to providing 30 hours-a-week of childcare for all two-to-four-year-olds, as part of its overall £4.5bn childcare package.

Ms Rayner said the extra support for early-years education could “transform lives”.

Mr Corbyn said opening a Sure Start centre in “every community” would “unlock the potential of every child”.

He said: “Parents are struggling to afford the childcare support they need, while many children are going hungry and growing up homeless.”

Childcare from nine months

The Liberal Democrats are unveiling their own childcare plans – offering 35 hours a week for all parents of two-to-four-year-olds.

This would be available for working parents from when their children are nine months old.

The Lib Dems say this will be funded by “fair tax changes”, which they say means “making sure that big businesses pay their share”.

Layla Moran, the Lib Dem education spokeswoman, said it would support families as they “juggle the demands of modern life, working and parenting, by giving them more choice over how they organise their lives and improve social mobility with early-years education”.

More on the election

At present working parents of three- and four-year-olds in England are entitled to 30 hours’ free childcare a week – and the Conservatives say they have increased the funding and quality of childcare provision while in government.

Early Years Minister Nick Gibb said: “Labour’s plans to abolish Ofsted would leave these centres without anyone properly checking your children are safe.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, welcomed Labour’s promise for new Sure Start centres.

But he raised concerns about funding the promises – and whether there would be adequate levels of payments for nurseries and childcare providers.

“This is a positive policy for the thousands of parents struggling to afford childcare – but the lack of detail on how it will be funded will strike fear into the hearts of many providers.

“We currently have a funding shortfall in the early years of two-thirds of a billion pounds. That shortfall, which has led to thousands of provider closures, is a direct result of an ongoing electoral arms race between political parties to entice parents with ‘free childcare’ without thinking through how it will be paid for.

“It has meant that very few parents receive truly ‘free’ childcare and has ultimately pushed up prices for non-funded hours.”

Scientists have developed a technique for making fake rhino horn, which they hope will undermine the illegal market in the genuine article.

Researchers at the University of Oxford and Fudan University in China have found a way of making fake rhino horn cheaply from horse hair.

Demand for rhino horn has been blamed for driving poaching and threatening the survival of the species.

The Oxford team said the fakes would “confuse the trade”.

But there has been some scepticism about whether this will be effective – with Save the Rhino International warning it could inadvertently stimulate the market for rhino horn.

The conservation charity says it is more important to focus on anti-poaching measures and attempts to reduce consumer demand.

Financial attack

Rhino horn has been claimed as an aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese medicine – which has sustained demand despite official attempts to prevent the trade.

This joint UK and Chinese project is the latest attempt to find a way of making artificial horn that is realistic enough to be convincing, with the aim of flooding the market with fakes and undermining the financial incentives for poachers and smugglers.

There have been previous ideas for fake horn, but this project wants a credible version that can be cheaply mass-produced.

The scientists say the “horn” of a rhino is not like the horn of a cow, but is formed from tufts of tightly packed hair that are glued together by secretions from the animal.

And the team of zoologists in Oxford and molecular scientists in Fudan University in Shanghai have developed a way of compressing and moulding horse hair in a way that looks and feels similar even when the “horn” is cut.

If credible fakes could be produced cheaply, the scientists say it would cut prices and reduce the incentive for killing the rhinos.

“It appears from our investigation that it is rather easy as well as cheap to make a bio-inspired horn-like material that mimics the rhino’s extravagantly expensive tuft of nose hair,” said Prof Fritz Vollrath, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology.

He said he hoped the technique could be used to “confuse the trade, depress prices and thus support rhino conservation”.

Unintended consequence?

But John Taylor, deputy director of Save the Rhino International, is unconvinced how much fake horn would reduce the threat to rhinos.

He says there is a risk that attempts to “flood the market” would have the unintended consequence of expanding the market and creating even more demand, which could cause even more poaching for real rhino horn.

He also questions how in practice fake horn could be inserted into an illegal black market trade.

Mr Taylor is not certain that artificial horn would really convince two of the main markets – where it is ground up for traditional Chinese medicine and where wild rhino horn is used as a status symbol, particularly in Vietnam.

“There is no substitute for anti-poaching measures at one end and reducing demand at the other,” he says.

A record number of 23,710 students have applied to study medicine at UK universities next September.

New figures from the admissions service Ucas show a 6% increase in the number of people applying for a degree in medicine, compared to last year.

The deadline for applications to begin medicine, as well as dentistry and veterinary science courses, next autumn, was 15 October.

This was also the deadline for students to apply to Oxford and Cambridge.

Ucas figures show that 18,500 applicants are from the four countries of the UK – up 5% on last year.

Applications from EU students for medicine degrees are up 1% to 1,680, while applications from students outside the EU have risen 10% to 3,530.

There has been an expansion in the number of medical school places available at English universities for the third year in a row, Ucas said.

Overall, 68,680 students have applied for all degree courses with an October 15 deadline, up 4% on last year, the admissions service added.

Ucas chief executive, Clare Marchant, said: “I’m inspired by the record number of students who are ready to take on the challenge of demonstrating they have the knowledge, skills, and potential to succeed on these ever-competitive courses.

“It’s encouraging to see so many students aim high with their applications.”

More needs to be done to tackle landlords unfairly targeting students with deposit deductions at the end of their tenancies, the National Union of Students (NUS) has said. For some renters, amounts can total hundreds of pounds.

“I think landlords look at us and think we’re just these dumb kids who don’t know what we’re doing,” Jessica Hickey tells the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. “It’s not fair, it’s not OK.”

The University of Lincoln graduate has been challenging her deposit deduction – amounting to £1,600 between four housemates – for two months.

Strictly speaking, landlords and letting agents can make deductions only up to the total amount of a tenant’s deposit but Jessica’s have added an additional £400 fee to the £1,200 they have held back.

“They decided we’ve not left the property in a fit state,” Jessica says. “Even though we’ve been there for two years, they’ve not allowed for wear and tear.

“We’ve been charged for weeding, we’ve apparently left the garden in not a fit state even though we had the next-door neighbour come over with his strimmer.”

Jessica says they have also been charged for issues they themselves reported to the landlord earlier in the tenancy, asking for them to be fixed.

She says not having their deposits returned has had a serious impact on some of her housemates. One was relying on the money to go towards the deposit on a house he was purchasing. Another has been unable to put a down payment on a car.

“The £300 was a stepping stone to leave university with… and it’s all been put on hold,” she says.

Scheme ‘ignored’

There are legitimate reasons for landlords and letting agents to deduct deposits – such as unpaid rent or direct damage to property – but the Victoria Derbyshire programme has heard from dozens of students who say they are being penalised beyond this.

The Tenant Fees Act was introduced earlier this year to protect renters from unfair agency fees but it does not cover the issue of deposit deductions.

Landlords are obliged to put deposits into the government-backed Tenancy Deposit Scheme at the beginning of a tenancy, which helps resolve any future disputes.

But students say this requirement is often ignored or the procedure for challenging a decision leads to a long delay – during which time their entire deposit is withheld- and many challenges end with them losing out anyway.

Benjamin McNeil, in Cardiff, also has a battle to recover his deposit.

His letting agents deducted £900 of his and his housemates’ £1,400 deposit.

This includes:

  • £150 for cleaning the property, even though, he says: “It was far cleaner when we left than when [we] moved in”
  • £30 for rubbish removal, even though, he says, they ensured nothing was left behind
  • £100 “essentially to paint over mould” in one of the bedrooms, which, he says, the housemates had repeatedly asked the letting agents to do throughout their tenancy

The case has now been resolved, with the housemates receiving £500 of the disputed amount – but Benjamin says it has caused unnecessary stress.

“After you graduate, you don’t want to spend the next two months contesting to get every penny back,” he says.

According to NUS’s 2019 Homes Fit For Study report, just 61% of surveyed students who paid a deposit said they had received it back in full at the end of their tenancy:

  • 27% said they had challenged the deductions formally but ended up paying them anyway
  • 24% said they had not formally challenged the deductions but had disagreed with them

The NUS is now calling for a tightening of legislation in this area.

“What we’re seeing more and more is unfair contracts,” says the organisation’s vice-president, Eva Crossan Jory, “landlords charging for things that are the result of wear-and-tear or where students have complained about something not working, the landlord doesn’t fix it and then at the end of the tenancy tries to charge them for the breaking of said appliance.

“The government should be doing more to penalise landlords when they do break the law.”

Currently, the government advises tenants to check their deposit is:

  • not more than five weeks’ rent
  • paid into the Tenancy Deposit Scheme

Meera Chindooroy from the National Landlords Association told the BBC: “Most landlords do not take unreasonable deductions from deposits, with an NUS survey last year showing that the majority of students [61%] who pay a deposit have it returned in full.

“It’s important that students understand their responsibilities in looking after the property – and that if they disagree with the landlord on damage, they can raise a dispute.”

Some students are now fighting back.

In Lincoln, graduate Natasha Hopewell was threatened with deductions amounting to almost all of her deposit and is now creating a forum for students in the city to warn others about bad practice.

“We got together and we made a website where students can review their student accommodation providers,” the founder of CribAdviser says.

“It’s all anonymous but it means students can warn one another of difficult letting agents and take control of our own tenancy by taking an informed decision.”

For those who feel mistreated, like Jessica and Benjamin, such initiatives may be a welcome start.

“It seems to be part of the process that landlords will try and get money out of you because they know most people won’t fight it,” Benjamin says.

Follow the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on Facebook and Twitter – and see more of our stories here.

Election officers have hit back angrily at calls from the education secretary for general election polling stations not to be placed in schools.

Gavin Williamson wanted to avoid disruption to school nativity plays and Christmas concerts, which could clash with the 12 December election day.

But election officers have written to the education secretary to express their “extreme disappointment”.

They say in many areas there are “no alternatives” to using schools.

This week Mr Williamson wrote to returning officers telling them that councils would be funded to find alternative venues for polling stations – and not to use schools as places to vote.

Manger danger

He said he wanted to make sure that “long-planned and important events” in schools at Christmas, such as plays and carol concerts, would not have to be cancelled.

But the announcement has prompted anger from the Association of Electoral Administrators, which is the professional body representing people who run elections.

In a stinging letter to Mr Williamson, they accuse him of a “complete lack of knowledge and understanding”.

“We question why this letter was sent out so late, after most polling stations have already been booked,” say the election officers, who warn that arranging a December election at short notice is already challenging enough.

They reject Mr Williamson’s claim that “every community” will have alternative venues for voting, so that schools will not have to be used.

“That is simply not the case. In many parts of the United Kingdom, including towns and cities but especially in rural areas, there are simply no alternatives to the venues designated as polling places,” says the letter from the association.

Chief executive Peter Stanyon says the process of deciding where to locate polling stations has mostly taken place – and the data has been sent to printers for polling cards.

He says schools are used as polling stations because they are well-known local venues and are likely to be accessible for people with disabilities – and often there are not any other practical options.

The move not to use schools for polling stations had been backed by head teachers’ leader Geoff Barton.

He said many schools would have Christmas events scheduled – and he questioned whether schools were really “suitable venues” for voting, particularly when elections had become more frequent.

More than half of students are ready to vote tactically in the general election, with Brexit the key factor, according to research.

The analysis from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) says 53% will vote in a way to maximise the chances of their side of the Brexit divide.

The poll of more than 1,000 undergraduates shows 74% oppose Brexit.

Hepi director Nick Hillman says for many students it would be “full-on tactical voting because of Brexit”.

The 12 December election date means many students will be back in their family home for Christmas – but they will still have the option to vote in their university constituency, or from their home address.

Brexit or fees?

But the polling analysis from Hepi, using data from YouthSight polling firm, shows more students expecting to vote tactically than in the previous election, with Brexit driving much of the decision making.

The polling shows 53% would vote tactically, 15% would be unwilling and 33% were “neutral”.

In 2017, there were 47% ready to vote tactically.

Tactical voting for students could be choosing in which seat to vote or whether to back a candidate more likely to win, who otherwise might not be their first choice.

Mr Hillman says rather than student-focused issues – such as tuition fees – Brexit seems more influential on voting intentions.

According to the pollsters, Brexit seems to be intensifying as a factor for student voters, rather than diminishing.

Among student voters, 70% want another referendum and 75% expect Brexit to have a negative impact on their future prospects.

For student voters, 71% said Brexit would have an influence on their voting.

Swing seats

In the 2017 general election, the student vote was seen as delivering some big swings to Labour, helping them to take seats with a significant student population, such as Canterbury and Portsmouth South.

But Mr Hillman, a former special adviser to a Conservative universities minister, says this is now a different student electorate.

“Most of today’s full-time undergraduates were not at university when the 2016 referendum took place, nor when the 2017 election occurred,” he said.

“They are literally different people to past student voters. But the majority of today’s students are strongly pro-Remain. They want another referendum and most say Brexit could affect how they vote at this election.

“A sizeable number are willing to consider full-on tactical voting because of Brexit.”

The survey was carried out across UK universities in October, before the election was called.

Youthsight, which conducted the poll, has a panel of 150,000 people aged 16-30 which it uses for research projects.