British capitalism has been mired in industrial decline for decades and is now in the grip of stagnant productivity. We have a low skill, low wage economy. On 6th April, the Tory government pushed the button on a plan to train three million new apprentices, which is apparently intended to tackle these problems. In fact, the plan will tackle nothing. It is a token effort, riddled with contradictions, which has been slammed by MPs as a “blunt instrument”.
As of last Thursday, big businesses will have to pay a 0.5% levy, which will then be used to train new apprentices, most of whom will work for a pitiful wage of just £3.40 per hour (the minimum wage for apprentices) in the companies who pay the levy. But the Tory plan hasn’t targeted the apprenticeships towards a particular sector or region. In reality, it’s being left entirely up to chance whether the missing skills gaps in the British economy will actually be filled by this scheme or not. The sum total of the plan means that the best the government can hope for is a move from a low skill, low wage economy to a wrong skill, low wage economy.
The Tory plan is a shambles. Whatever they do will be a drop in the ocean. The trend towards low pay and casualisation is fuelled by the relentless pursuit of profit that props up the capitalist system and which is even more frenzied now that capitalism is in crisis. The Tories are the political representatives of British capitalism and are firmly tethered to it as it rolls deeper into the low productivity swamp. Even if they wanted to, nothing they could do would be able to stop that decline, especially not a botched apprentice training scheme.
Additional problems are being caused by how apprentices will be assessed at the end of their training. There are 60 registered assessment providers and no real common standards against which these providers have to carry out their assessments. Some providers might be rigorous in demanding the development of skilled apprentices, others might, in the interest of saving money and undercutting the competition, be more lax. A race to the bottom amongst assessment providers will mean a race to the bottom in terms of the training apprentices receive. The result will be that they’ll simply be used as unskilled workers whom bosses can get away with paying half the minimum wage.
This apprenticeship scheme will be shredded by the logic of capitalism before it has even got off the ground. The Tories aren’t particularly bothered by this – they just want to grab a couple of headlines and grandstand about how they’re the “party of the working class”.
If we’re serious about tackling the low skill, low wage economy, we need the following:
- A decent living wage for apprentices.
- A coherent plan for apprenticeship training, integrated with free higher education and based on the ability and needs of apprentices and society as a whole.
- Public ownership and workers’ control of big businesses to guarantee proper investment in skills and training, and a clear plan for the development of the economy.
The capitalist class aren’t interested in these demands; all they want is to line their pockets with profits at the expense of everyone else. And their political representatives in the Tory party are happy to help them. If we want to have decent apprenticeships and improve the standard of living for everyone, we need to kick the Tories out of government and get profit out of the economy. In short, we need to fight for socialism.