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Fear of numbers stopping us from tackling our finances: New research

21 May 2024

Over a fifth (21 per cent) of British adults believe their fear of numbers is hindering their financial wellbeing, according to a new study commissioned by KPMG UK.

Woman holding a receipt looking stressed

The survey of 3,000 adults in the UK, conducted ahead of National Numeracy Day on Wednesday 22 May 2024, found that a fifth of the respondents struggled with basic maths problems, including calculating discounts, negotiating prices, and understanding loan terms.

Maths skills and the cost-of-living crisis

A quarter of respondents believe stronger numeracy skills could have helped them navigate the current cost-of-living crisis. An additional 42 per cent said they could have saved more for price increases, and 41 per cent could have budgeted more effectively.

Relying on others to manage finances

The study also revealed the increasing reliance on others for financial assistance. 21 per cent of respondents admitted to relying on others to manage their finances due to inadequate maths skills, a slight increase from the 19 per cent who reported the same last year. While 20 per cent admit to avoiding financial management altogether.

Sam Sims, Chief Executive at National Numeracy which runs the National Numeracy Day campaign, said: “Soaring costs for energy, food and other basic essentials have hit those worst off the hardest. The survey results show a lack of number confidence is compounding money worries for millions.

“Clearly, the confidence to understand and work with numbers can no longer be viewed as a ‘nice to have’ but as crucial to navigating not only our finances, but daily life. Good numeracy is a pillar for building a financially inclusive, resilient and socially mobile nation. Join us this National Numeracy Day”.

Bina Mehta, Chair at KPMG in the UK, added: “In today's complex world, numeracy skills are fundamental in promoting financial inclusion and enabling individuals to make informed choices, especially against the backdrop of the current cost-of-living crisis. Those lacking number confidence are even more vulnerable to debt, unemployment and fraud, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are disproportionately impacted.

“If we want to build a fairer and more inclusive economy, individuals, businesses, policy makers and education leaders all have a crucial role to play in ensuring numeracy skills are prioritised.”

Mind-bending terms

Common financial terms that respondents find ‘mind-bending’ include stocks, personal contract purchases (PCP), bonds, annual percentage rate (APR) and credit scores. This lack of understanding extends to financial news, with 29 per cent avoiding headlines where possible. 47 per cent of those stated they didn’t find it interesting and 40 per cent thought it was too complex.

The view on the street about maths:

For media queries, please contact:   
Cass Lawrence, Head of Communications, National Numeracy 
 [email protected] 
 07852 117 650 

Notes to Editors: 

Research Methodology: KPMG UK, in collaboration with the charity National Numeracy, commissioned research agency 72Point (One Poll) to conduct a nationally representative survey of 3,000 adults (18+) – between the 5 and 13 May 2024 – on various questions assessing attitudes and feelings towards numeracy. Respondents were targeted on a nationally representative basis for age, gender and region.

About National Numeracy: National Numeracy is a charity dedicated to helping people feel confident with numbers and using everyday maths. Our mission is to empower children and adults in the UK to get on with numbers so they can fulfil their potential at work, home and school. Our work improves how people understand and work with numbers in everyday life, sparking better opportunities and brighter futures. National Numeracy is a registered company (company no: 7886294) and charity (charity no: 1145669).  Visit:  

About National Numeracy Day: National Numeracy Day on 22 May 2024 is the UK’s only day dedicated to everyday maths. It aims to inspire everyone to have the confidence and skills to work with, and understand numbers, so they can get on in life. One simple step is to try the National Numeracy Challenge. The campaign is run by the UK charity National Numeracy with the campaign’s founding supporter KPMG and supported by an ever-growing list of organisations who believe in improving the nation’s numeracy. 

Photo: Karolina Grabowska, Pexels

Try the National Numeracy Challenge

 However you feel about maths, you’re not alone. The National Numeracy Challenge is a free and easy-to-use website you can use to improve your confidence with numbers, in your own time and at your own pace.

It’s ideal for brushing up, checking your level, or for catching up on learning you missed, and it’s all about the maths you need in daily life and at work – no algebra or trigonometry.

Image showing the Challenge on a computer monitor