Budget 2017: Returnships

12 March 2017

As well as announcing significant investment in technical education for young people, the Chancellor also used yesterday’s spring budget to introduce a number of smaller, but important, measures in recognition that “individuals should have the opportunity to retrain and upskill at all points in their life”. Alongside an investment of £40m in lifelong learning pilots, £5m will be made available next year to increase the number of ‘returnships’, offering people who have taken lengthy career breaks a clear route back into employment.

Returnships originated in the City in 2014, as a paid short-term employment contract designed to support senior professionals who have been on an extended career break. They featured prominently in the annual report of the Women and Work APPG as one of a range of mechanisms through which government might achieve its ambitions to fight against what Theresa May called “the burning injustice… that if you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man”.

The challenge is significant, especially for women with children – but the rewards could be high. The employment rate for working age women without children is 76.2%; compared to 67.5% for those with children. For women with few qualifications, the employment rate is even lower. In this context, increasing maternal employment by even 5% could generate around £750 million in increased tax revenue and decreased benefit spending.

Although the budget contained few details about how this £5m will be invested, the APPG recommendations were clear that returnships should be extended to include women and men in low and mid-level positions, and that Government and employers should work to together to support the development of returnships across the rest of the UK. Learning and Work Institute welcomes this investment in supporting men and women back to work after taking a career break, and strongly support the proposed expansion of the model.

The concept of a returnship fits well alongside the work we have been doing over several years to develop and promote Career Reviews. While beneficial for people of all ages and stages in their working lives, they have been found to be particularly useful for those in mid-career, helping them to identify and improve skill sets, and secure employment. We look forward to working with government to ensure that we maximise the impact of this investment, and support more women – and men – back to work.