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New report signals concerns for productivity in the post-Brexit era

11 Aug 2017

National Numeracy is calling on government and employers to work with us in a new approach to improving the population’s number skills. 

Our proposals are set out in a report, The Essentials of Numeracy: a new approach to making the UK numerate, supported by KPMG and launched at an event at the Bank of England on July 11, attended by 70 guests, including business leaders, educationalists, government officials, NHS managers and representatives of other charities with an interest in our work.

The report says that people’s poor numeracy is often not detected and that employers should recognise that some of the millions of people who struggle with numeracy may be in their own workplace. Poor maths skills among adults is now too big a problem to be left to the education and training system alone –  and we have developed an alternative approach that we know can make a big difference to people’s confidence and competence with numbers. We now want to work with employers and others to embed the Essentials of Numeracy in their own organisations.

The report draws on a wide 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 revealed that only one in six people (17%) were able to answer three simple numeracy questions accurately. 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.

Our alternative approach to improving numeracy was designed with maths specialists and presents 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. 

Our online tool, The National Numeracy Challenge, has had more than 100,000 registrations. It’s there to help people get a feel for their own numeracy level and it provides free resources to help them improve and get the Essentials of Numeracy.  

The launch event on July 11 was hosted by Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England and National Numeracy Trustee, who 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.

Other panellists were:  

- Rachel Hopcroft - Head of Corporate Affairs, KPMG
- Mike Ellicock - CEO, National Numeracy

- Lynne McClure - Director, Cambridge Maths

- Nick Groves - Associate Director / Workforce Transformation Lead, Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.

The panellists looked in more detail at the findings of the new report and the solution offered by the Essentials, the impact of poor numeracy on business and the economy, the links between the Essentials and school education and joint working between the NHS and National Numeracy to improve staff numeracy.

This was followed by a lively debate from the floor with contributions from:

- Sir Charlie Mayfield; Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership
- Bronwen Maddox; Director of the Institute for Government
- Hugh Stickland; Office for National Statistics
- Mary Curnock-Cook; former UCAS Chief Executive
- Lord Ralph Lucas
- Simon Gallacher; Head of Student Programmes at The Nuffield Foundation
- Dawn Grant; Project Manager at Health Education England