17m adults have poor numeracy skills

NBS supports new independent charity which aims to challenge UK's negative attitude to maths

02 March 2012

  • One in two adults have numeracy skills roughly equivalent to those expected of children at primary school
  • 80% of adults would be embarrassed to tell someone they were bad at reading and writing, but only 56% would be embarrassed to say they were bad at maths.

The number of adults with poor numeracy skills has reached 17 million in England alone – very nearly half the working-age population. The figure has increased by nearly two million over the last eight years (from 47% to 49%) and is a disturbing indictment of national attitudes to numeracy, according to a new charity, National Numeracy, launched yesterday. It far exceeds the equivalent figure for poor literacy which is five million adults.

Nationwide Building Society is a founder of National Numeracy, a charity set up solely to champion the importance of numeracy for people of all ages and spread new ways of improving the standard of numeracy. The organisation seeks to emulate the success of the National Literacy Trust (founded in 1993) which has helped transform lives through literacy.

National Numeracy is highlighting figures from a 2011 Government Skills for Life survey (based on 7,000 adults aged 16-65) which shows that one in two adults have numeracy skills roughly equivalent to those expected of children at primary school and may not be able to understand pay and deductions on a wages slip.

National Numeracy also revealed the results of a YouGov poll of 2,000 adults, which it commissioned last month and which found that, while 80% of adults would be embarrassed to tell someone they were bad at reading and writing, only slightly more than half (56%) would be embarrassed to say they were bad at maths.

Graeme Hughes, corporate affairs director at Nationwide Building Society, said: “It is unacceptable that there are so many people in the UK with poor numeracy skills. Not only does numeracy affect employability, but it is also a cornerstone to building financial capability. By investing in National Numeracy and helping to kick start this campaign, we're hoping to have a real impact on numeracy levels, creating new opportunities for people across the UK.

“Nationwide has invested in Nationwide Education since 2008, which provides tools for children, parents and teachers with modules about money, finances and employability. Without dealing with basic numeracy there is a limit to the impact that financial education can have.”

Chris Humphries, chair of National Numeracy and former chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), said: “It is simply inexcusable for anyone to say ‘I can’t do maths’. It’s a peculiarly British disease which we aim to eradicate. It doesn’t happen in other parts of the world, and it’s hitting our international competitiveness. With encouragement and good teaching, everyone can improve their numeracy.”

Notes to editors:
Nationwide Building Society is the world’s largest building society, the UK’s second largest savings provider and third largest mortgage lender. It is also a major provider of current accounts, credit cards and personal loans.

With around 16 million members, Nationwide has a relationship with almost a quarter of the UK population. In the first half of 2010/2011 alone we helped 10,000 people buy their first home.

Since the credit crunch began in 2007, Nationwide has remained profitable against a very difficult economic environment. In the year 2010/11 Nationwide made a strong underlying profit of £276 million – up 30% from the previous year.

Our strong financial performance and prudent business model meant that Nationwide was included in Global Finance magazine’s Top 50 Safest Banks in the World, one of only three UK institutions in the Top 50.

National Numeracy will campaign to change negative attitudes to maths and also work with partner organisations to identify and spread new ways of improving the standard of numeracy. The founding sponsors alongside Nationwide Building Society include the Rayne Foundation, Oxford University Press and John Lyon’s Charity.

The BIS Skills for Life survey results are available here: www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/further-education-skills/docs/0-9/11-1367-2011-skills-for-life-survey-findings.pdf

Full results of the YouGov Poll on attitudes to maths and numeracy are available from 2 March 2012 at: http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/n3c5flpfcv/YG-NationalNumeracy-Numeracy-130212.pdf

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