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New research: It’s National Numeracy Day, let’s make it count

19 May 2021

  • Nearly a third of Brits say they struggle with everyday maths, while over a quarter say they have struggled to understand the numbers relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • 59% of parents say maths was the toughest lesson to teach their kids during lockdown, and the same proportion say that doing so highlighted their own lack of confidence in numbers.

  • Half of Brits say that making their money go further has become more important since the pandemic, yet people still say they struggle with overspending, understanding interest rates or keeping track of their finances.

Parent helping child

Nearly a third of Brits (31%) say they are struggling with everyday maths and more than a quarter (29%) avoid situations involving numbers, new research published on National Numeracy Day finds.

Commissioned by National Numeracy Day’s founding supporter KPMG for its organiser, the charity National Numeracy – the research reveals that 39% of people say maths leaves them feeling anxious, with those in London (60%) and the North East (44%) and younger respondents (60% of 18-24’s; 61% of 25-34’s) feeling particularly uneasy.  

Reinforcing the vital need to give numeracy the attention it deserves in the current climate, over a quarter of people (29%) say they don’t understand the majority of the numbers relating to COVID-19 in the news - whether it be the ‘R-number’ or the number of cases. Of those that have struggled, over two-thirds (68%) say that improving their numeracy skills would help them better understand numbers in the news about the pandemic.

Looking at the use of maths in everyday life, understanding money matters such as interest rates, working out deals while shopping, using numbers in the workplace and helping children with their homework or whilst home-schooling, are among the most common ways people say they are struggling with numbers.  

Now in its fourth year, today’s National Numeracy Day aims to empower adults and children to improve their confidence and competence with numbers in three key areas: supporting children, finding a job or getting on at work; and managing money, with a day of live events and free activities.

Sam Sims, Chief Executive of National Numeracy, said: "Number confidence and skills are needed in every aspect of life – at work, home and supporting children at school. This research shows there is a huge amount of anxiety about numeracy and much more work to do to support the one in three British adults who say they struggle with everyday maths. Everyone deserves to feel confident with numbers and this National Numeracy Day, we are going all out to show how, with the right support, everyone can improve their everyday maths.”

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: “Maths and numeracy are an essential grounding for a good education and for establishing skills for everyday life. We know the pandemic has had an impact on children’s education, so celebrating National Numeracy Day is an opportunity to reinforce how fundamental these skills are as young people move through school and into the wider world. With so many adults admitting they struggle with everyday maths, we must ensure this generation of young people leave education with confidence and fluency in maths.”

Minister for Employment Mims Davies MP said: "We know how important numeracy skills are in helping people get on in work and in life, which is why I’m delighted to be able to support National Numeracy in getting the word out about the wide ranging support available. Across the country, our DWP Work Coaches are making sure that jobseekers have the tailored support they need – including key access to numeracy, literacy, and digital skills courses – to help them move forward into work and really progress.”

Supporting children:
With home-schooling far from a distant memory for many parents, over half of them (59%) considered maths the hardest lesson to help their kids with during lockdown. The same proportion (59%) admit that home-schooling has highlighted their own lack of confidence with numbers. Proving that it’s never too late to brush up your everyday maths, nearly two-thirds of parents (65%) say their own maths skills have improved as a result of home-schooling.

Finding a job and getting on at work:
At a time when employment prospects remain firmly in the spotlight, the latest research finds that nearly one in five people (18%) avoid applying for a job or qualification because it, or the interview process, involves maths. By contrast, nearly two-thirds (63%) say their confidence in numbers has helped them progress at work or in their career. Pointing to the vital role employers can play, over two-fifths (42%) say if their workplace offered help to improve their numeracy confidence and skill, they would give it go.   

Managing money:
Half of the people surveyed admit that making their money go further has become more important in their household since the pandemic began. While only 4% of people considered themselves ‘bad with money’, for many, a lack of confidence with numbers gets in the way of managing their money. Overspending, reduced understanding of interest rates, or making it harder to keep track of their spending were among the ways people said they struggled to manage their finances. Nearly a quarter of respondents (23%) also knew of a friend or family member they suspected was struggling with their finances as a result of not being confident with maths or numbers. 

Bina Mehta, Chair of KPMG UK, the founding supporter of National Numeracy Day, added: “We all use numbers in our day-to-day lives, yet nearly half of the UK’s working population has the numeracy level of a primary school child.  Not only does this have severe consequences for the individuals concerned – leaving them vulnerable to debt, unemployment, or fraud – but it also hinders Britain’s productivity too, at the very time our efforts are focused on rebuilding our economy.

“Numeracy, literacy and lifelong learning are the building blocks for social mobility and so it’s vital that poor numeracy is given the attention it deserves – and that is why KPMG is the proud founding supporter of National Numeracy Day. We must dispel the myth that if you are ‘bad with numbers’ you can’t improve, reminding ourselves that it's a skill like any other that can be learnt. The courage of those seeking to improve their everyday maths must be met by the collaboration of businesses, policy makers and education leaders. Doing so will help achieve greater social mobility and lay the foundations for a more prosperous and fairer economy.”


Media contact:
Julia Day, External Relations Director at National Numeracy
[email protected]  / 07974 209 148     

Notes to editors:

Methodology of research:
KPMG UK commissioned research agency 72Point (OnePoll) to conduct a nationally representative survey of 2,000 adults (18+) – between Tuesday 4 and Thursday 6 May 2021 – on various questions assessing attitudes towards numeracy. Respondents were targeted on a nationally representative basis for age, gender and region.

Notes to editors:
About National Numeracy Day  
National Numeracy Day is the UK’s only day dedicated to everyday maths. It aims is 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. 

National Numeracy Day Supporters 
National Numeracy Day is supported by an ever-growing list of organisations who believe in improving the nation’s numeracy

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). 

About KPMG UK:
KPMG LLP, a UK limited liability partnership, operates from 21 offices across the UK with approximately 16,000 partners and staff.  The UK firm recorded a revenue of £2.3 billion in the year ended 30 September 2020. KPMG is a global organization of independent professional services firms providing Audit, Legal, Tax and Advisory services. It operates in 147 countries and territories and has more than 219,000 people working in member firms around the world. Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such. KPMG International Limited is a private English company limited by guarantee. KPMG International Limited and its related entities do not provide services to clients.