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Talking about maths is the UK's last taboo

18 May 2022

Traditionally taboo subjects like politics, money and religion no longer render us red-faced, but a new survey has found there’s one last taboo left in the UK.

Only 2 out of 10 adults (19%) often discuss numbers or maths with their family and friends, according to a new survey of over 2,000 adults.

However, people talk about reading twice as often, with 4 out of 10 (41%) saying they often discuss reading or books with family and friends.

A man and woman sat on a sofa, turned away from each other

This Wednesday 18 May is National Numeracy Day and a host of celebrities are hoping to help break this last taboo in British households by taking part in The Big Number Natter.

TV stars Rachel Riley and Bobby Seagull, Strictly’s Katya Jones and Bake Off’s Peter Sawkins and Lottie Bedlow are among the famous faces talking about how they feel about numbers and maths. Rappers Harry Baker and Shuffle T are even having a rap battle on Instagram about it.

Other names spilling the beans on social media about how numbers make them feel are the Deaf Chef, Sam Egerton-Kemp, who will be nattering in Sign Supported English, Skills Minister Alex Burghart and Employment Minister Mims Davies, finance influencers Mr MoneyJar, Jordan Green and Lord Sugar’s business partner Amani Zubair, and Tom Crawford, famous for his YouTube channel Tom Rocks Maths.

The new YouGov poll commissioned by National Numeracy also showed that despite not talking about maths often, when the subject does surface, the UK’s ‘boasting about being bad at maths’ culture is still going strong.

Only half of adults (52%) would feel embarrassed to say they were bad at numbers and maths. Whereas many more (67%) agreed they would feel embarrassed to say they were no good at reading and writing.

Sam Sims, Chief Executive of National Numeracy, the charity behind National Numeracy Day, said:
“Despite the fact that numbers are crucial in everyday life, from managing money to helping children with homework, people are highly unlikely to talk about them with their nearest and dearest.

“But shockingly, half the population has the numeracy of a primary school child. So, the British culture of ignoring numbers, or even boasting about being bad at them, must change.

“National Numeracy Day is all about removing barriers and empowering adults and children to improve their confidence and competence with numbers, to help them in all aspects of their lives. And this year’s line-up is our biggest and best yet.”

Wednesday’s National Numeracy Day kicks off with an invitation for children across the country to join in with a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ Official Attempt at 9.30am via livestream on the National Numeracy Day website.

National Numeracy, Times Tables Rock Stars, Katya Jones and Bobby Seagull have teamed up for a Rocking and Rolling Numbers live event, which will attempt to set an official title for most viewers of a rolling live numbers stream.

And throughout the day, the social media channels will be buzzing with celebrity Big Number Natters and live events while the National Numeracy Day website offers a huge variety of free online activities, resources and competitions for adults and children.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:
“Having a good grasp of numbers can help everyone get on in life and work, so it’s vital we do all we can to help young people to gain the maths skills they need to succeed.

“That’s why I’ve set an ambitious target for 90% of young people to leave primary school at the expected standard in maths by 2030, and pledged to every parent in the country that any child who falls behind will receive targeted support to get them back on track.

“National Numeracy Day’s Rocking and Rolling Numbers world record breaking attempt is a great way to get kids excited about maths and it is fantastic to see the fun and accessible ways children of all ages are getting involved. Good luck to everyone taking part.”

Bina Mehta, Chair of KPMG in the UK, Founding Supporter of National Numeracy Day, said:
“KPMG are delighted to have supported National Numeracy Day since it began five years ago.

“Every year it gets bigger and better as a celebration of the power and importance of improving number skills and confidence – for individuals, schools, businesses and the whole nation as a key driver of social mobility. Do get involved!”

Check and improve your numeracy confidence and skills in just 10 minutes with the free National Numeracy Challenge.

For media queries, please contact:
Julia Day, External Relations Director, National Numeracy 
[email protected]