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New research: “Numeracy crisis” could be costing the UK up to £25 billion a year

13 Apr 2021

A new research report puts the cost of low numeracy skills to the UK at as much as £25 billion per year and reveals Covid pandemic job losses have hit those with low numeracy hardest in what is being called a “numeracy crisis”.

National Numeracy responds...

Construction worker

Counting on the recovery: the role for numeracy skills in ‘levelling up’ the UK, published today by charity Pro Bono Economics and commissioned by KPMG for National Numeracy, says that 59% of those who have lost their jobs so far in the pandemic are likely to have low numeracy skills, the equivalent of 560,000 people.

The report outlines the financial cost of low numeracy for individuals and the nation, calculating that workers in the UK with low numeracy skills are currently earning around 6.5% less than they could if they had a basic level of numeracy skills – the equivalent of nearly £1,600 less per year.

As "an illustrative scenario of the maximum potential total scale of this income differential,” Counting on the recovery says a £1,600 wage increase for the estimated 16 million workers in the UK with low numeracy skills is the equivalent of a total differential in income of £25 billion per year in 2020 prices.

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, Vice-chair of National Numeracy and co-founder of Pro Bono Economics, says in his foreword to the report:

“The UK faces a numeracy crisis, plain and simple. As this report makes clear, this crisis is having significant economic costs, especially for those least advantaged in society.

This cost can be counted in lost earnings – the £25 billion the report finds would be added to our collective pay packets if numeracy skills could be levelled-up. The cost comes in widening regional disparities, since numeracy skills are weakest in regions whose incomes are lowest. And these costs have been increased by Covid, which has hit hardest those whose numeracy skills are fewest.” 

The report found workers with low numeracy have suffered more job losses because sectors employing greater numbers of people with low numeracy skills have lost far more jobs - 713,000 in total – than those with a lower proportion of employees with low numeracy skills, where 81,000 jobs have been lost.

And the North East, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber have most to gain from numeracy improvement, according to the research which includes a full regional analysis.

National Numeracy believes the message of the report is clear: supporting people who struggle with numbers to build their numeracy confidence and skills could help them improve their chances of finding work, boost people’s earning potential and help the UK level up and build back better following the Covid crisis.

Sam Sims, chief executive of National Numeracy said:

“If we want a more equitable recovery, accompanied by vibrant, resilient, highly competitive regional economies, investing in basic skills at the local level, particularly for those with low numeracy, is essential.  

He continued: "As we rebuild our workforce, addressing the issue of poor numeracy will play a central role in job creation. For individuals, improved numeracy could give access to broader, more sustainable job opportunities. For regions, it could help attract investment, create jobs in growth industries and level-up local economies.”

National Numeracy recommends the following urgent actions are taken to begin to build back better: 

  • The Government has made headway in promoting the importance of adult basic skills. However more need to be done to encourage those with the lowest number confidence and skills to take their first step and access the opportunities available. We would advocate embedding the National Numeracy Challenge into adult education, employment and skills-building programmes to reach hundreds of thousands of people with a proven, cost-effective method that helps those with low number confidence and confidence.
  • Business should build the skills necessary for a resilient and adaptable workforce and to remain competitive within a changing economy in which numeracy skills will be more important than ever. A coordinated and collective effort by business, at the regional and national level, is required to tackle the numeracy skills issue.
  • Individuals with low number confidence and numeracy skills should be supported to feel ready and confident to learn, in order to feel able to access training and jobs, and to thrive within a changing workforce. 

Our sincere thanks go to KPMG for commissioning such a vital report and to Pro Bono Economics for their crucial insight on the numeracy issue.

If you are a journalist and would like to speak to National Numeracy about this story please contact Julia Day, Head of Communications: [email protected]

Read the full report

Watch a discussion about the Counting on the recovery report and its key findings with Jon Franklin, Chief Economist of Pro Bono Economics; Sam Sims, Chief Executive of National Numeracy; and Claire Warnes, Head of Education, Skills and Productivity at KMPG; chaired by former BBC journalist and National Numeracy trustee Wendy Jones.