The report, The Essentials of Numeracy: a new approach to making the UK numerate, calls on employers to recognise that some of the millions of people who struggle with numeracy may be in their own workplace. It says that initiatives to improve adult numeracy so far seem to have had little effect. Poor maths skills among adults is now too big a problem to be left to the education and training system alone.
The report, supported by the professional service company KPMG, draws on a range of evidence, including a recent survey carried out for National Numeracy by YouGov and new research from the Money Advice Service (MAS).
The YouGov poll asked 2,000 adults to calculate the new rate of pay of someone paid £9 an hour who receives a 5% pay increase. Almost one in four (23%) were unable to answer correctly. Two further questions – one about simple interest on a savings account and the other about exchanging pounds for dollars – were asked, with only one in six people (17%) getting all three questions correct.
The poll also revealed that almost nine out of ten people (89%) felt it was important to the economy to improve numeracy skills among the general population and half of those questioned said they had reasons for wanting to improve their own numeracy and maths skills. But, 49% said they did not want or need to improve.
MAS research to be published later this year will show how poor numeracy – independent of other factors including income – makes people less likely to save money and more likely to use credit badly.
Previous research by Pro Bono Economics estimated that poor numeracy costs the UK £20 billion a year. Further analysis of this research has put the average cost to an individual with low numeracy at £460 a year.
Against this background, National Numeracy has worked with maths specialists and employers to develop an alternative solution: an explicit, national focus on the ‘Essentials of Numeracy’, that is, the practical maths skills and understanding that everyone needs in order to cope with everyday life and to function well at work. The charity wants its approach to be embedded within workplaces and is seeking to work with businesses and other organisations to help them identify poor numeracy skills, tackle negative attitudes to maths and support those employees and clients who need to improve.
Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England and a trustee of National Numeracy, said: “Poor numeracy can hit workplace productivity and also has profound economic and social effects for households who fall into problems with debt and financial hardship. Data from the 100,000 who have already engaged with the National Numeracy Challenge shows that improving basic numeracy online at low marginal cost is possible. The Essentials of Numeracy report is a key milestone to begin to tackle these important societal issues. Next, we need to see such initiatives on scale to bring about real improvements to support the economy.”
In her foreword to the report, Melanie Richards, vice-chair of KPMG UK, also said: “Many of the 17 million adults with poor numeracy are now out of reach to the education system, meaning employers must play their part too. Businesses have a vital role to play in helping the millions of adults held back by a lack of basic numeracy….If we are to solve the UK’s long-standing productivity puzzle, improving basic skills in the workforce will be a key challenge for the business community to tackle.”
Broadcaster and TV mathematician Rachel Riley said: “I make no secret of the fact that I love maths but I also know not everyone is like me and many were thrilled to have left trigonometry and algebra behind in the classroom. But there is some maths that everyone really does need a grasp of to make good, informed decisions both at home and at work, which is why I wholeheartedly support the Essentials of Numeracy.”