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Nation turns to numeracy to help count the cost of living this winter

14 Nov 2022

As the cost-of-living crisis hits hard, our figures show that more people than ever before are improving their number skills in order to better manage their money.

However, women and those on low incomes suffer from a significant lack of number confidence.

couple shopping in a supermarket

Surge in people wanting to improve their numeracy in order to manage their money

New data reveals that the number of people wanting to improve their numeracy specifically to deal with managing their money increased by 29% from May to September this year, compared to the same period last year.

The surge in people getting to grips with their numbers using our free numeracy improvement website, the National Numeracy Challenge, comes as alarm over rising prices and inflation have gripped UK households. And while improving numeracy won’t stop the bills from climbing, it can help people make better decisions about their money.

Getting more comfortable with numbers helps in everyday life

The data was released during Number Confidence Week, the charity’s campaign to help people feel more comfortable with using numbers in everyday life.

Sam Sims, Chief Executive of National Numeracy, said: This year, we are seeing thousands of people motivated to improve their numeracy to help them feel more in control of their finances. With the confidence to face numbers, it is highly likely they will be able to build their skills and go on to make better decisions about their money.

"Confidence is the best predictor of skills – the two go hand-in-hand – so we are supporting people to take that first step. Our research shows that getting on with numbers can open up opportunities, drive productivity and prosperity, and crucially, is within everyone’s grasp."

Women are twice as anxious as men about using maths and numbers

Women in particular need support, according to recent research carried out by YouGov on behalf of National Numeracy. The nationally representative poll of over 2,000 adults found that:

  • Women are twice as anxious as men about using maths and numbers.
  • Almost a fifth of the nation (18%) said maths and numbers made them nervous, but when split by gender 24% of women agreed, compared to just 12% of men.
  • Almost a third of people (29%) wanted to improve their numeracy to better manage their money, rising to 41% giving this reason among 18-24 year olds.
  • One in four people would be deterred from applying for a job if it listed numbers and data as a requirement.
  • Less than a quarter of the working-age population (24%) has the numeracy level equivalent to a GSCE pass (Grade 4). A third of men (33%) but only 16% of women have reached this level.
  • Working class, unemployed and part-time workers have the lowest skills, highlighting where help is most needed.

Celebrity Ambassador Iona Bain reveals why number confidence is so important to her

Iona Bain, the financial writer, author, broadcaster and speaker, who has become an ambassador for National Numeracy because of her own struggles with number confidence said: “I was diagnosed with mild dyscalculia at school and have always struggled with maths, so I know what it’s like to lack number confidence. But when I started talking and writing about personal finance in my 20s, I realised just how important it is to be unafraid of numbers if you want to manage your money well on a day-to-day basis.

“I have slowly but surely got to a better, more positive place with numbers, and I now wholeheartedly believe anyone can learn to manage their dyscalculia or maths anxiety so they can lead a perfectly happy and successful life.”

Low numeracy makes us more vulnerable to debt, unemployment and fraud

As a nation, numeracy levels are significantly below the average for developed countries: 49% of the UK’s working-age population has the expected numeracy levels of a primary school child. Struggling with numbers can make people more vulnerable to debt, unemployment and fraud - all exacerbated by the current financial crisis. And it costs the UK economy a staggering £25 billion a year.

Number Confidence Week offers free activities and resources, and is supported by celebrities including Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis, Rachel Riley, Bobby Seagull, Timi Merriman-Johnson (aka Mr MoneyJar), poet and rapper Harry Baker and Bake Off winner Peter Sawkins.

The campaign is supported by Founding Partner TP ICAP and Lead Supporters Experian, Capital One and the Lord Mayor’s Appeal. 

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