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YouGov poll finds managing money is main driver for adults wanting to improve numeracy

19 Mar 2015

Getting better at managing money is the main reason people want to improve their maths skills, according to a YouGov poll released today.

The survey, commissioned by National Numeracy, revealed a third of adults (34%) wanted to improve their numeracy or everyday maths skills, and of these, 37% saying they wanted to improve in order to manage their budgets better and spot good deals. As a motive, this came ahead of getting better at everyday activities such as cooking and DIY (26%), understanding statistics in the media (25%) or getting a job (7%). Among parents who wanted to improve their numeracy, helping their children was the most common reason (46% of adults with children at home).

The poll comes amidst growing concern about the plight of people who are ‘financially excluded’ – who do not have bank accounts or adequate savings and who rely on high-cost loans. Last week a major report from the Financial Inclusion Commission called for financial inclusion to be given higher public policy priority and stressed the importance of better financial skills training throughout life.

However such reports have generally failed to highlight the vital importance of numeracy skills in underpinning money sense – an oversight that National Numeracy believes is damaging through failing to address one of the root causes of poor financial capability.

National Numeracy chief executive Mike Ellicock said:

If you don’t understand the basic maths - if, for example, you don’t get the concept of percentages - you are going to struggle to make good decisions about your money, no matter what changes yesterday’s Budget brought.

This seems to us blatantly obvious and many of those questioned in the YouGov poll get it, but it still attracts little attention by many in the financial sector.

One business that has grasped the importance of good numeracy is Nationwide Building Society – a founding sponsor of National Numeracy. The charity is now calling on others in the financial sector to follow the company’s lead.

Mark Rennison, Group Finance Director at Nationwide Building Society, said:

Knowing your numbers isn’t just for the classroom; it’s a valuable skill that lasts a lifetime.

Poor numeracy remains an issue that needs to be addressed and we fully support the positive work being done by National Numeracy in this area. Understanding what we spend and what we earn to a greater extent could be the difference between a balanced budget and an uphill money struggle.

Today’s YouGov poll – National Numeracy’s 4th annual survey of public attitudes to maths and numeracy – also suggests a significant shift in views about maths skills. Previous surveys have shown people much more likely to feel embarrassed by the idea of admitting they are no good at reading and writing than admitting the same about maths and numbers.

This year the gap has narrowed, with 63% agreeing they would be embarrassed to tell someone they were no good at maths and numbers; the first time the figure has gone significantly above 50%. However it still trails behind those saying they would feel embarrassed to tell someone they were no good at reading and writing (76%).

The survey was carried out online among over 2,000 adults throughout the UK earlier this month. Other findings include:

  • Only half of people surveyed (51%) felt that GCSE Maths (or O-level or Scottish Standard Grade) had prepared them well for the workplace
  • Over a third of people (35%) said they had found some aspect of everyday life challenging because it involved maths or numeracy
  • One in eight (12%) said they had found managing their own or someone else’s health challenging because of the maths or numeracy
  • Seven out of ten people said they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ confident that they understood statistics in the media in recent month about the upcoming general election – but women were much less confident than men (59% vs 82%)
  • Men are most likely to rate their maths skills ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ (71%), while women are most likely to rate them ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ (78%)
  • One in eight people (13%) said maths made them feel ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ anxious with an additional one in three (31%) saying they were ‘not very’ anxious.

TV presenter and co-host of Channel 4’s quiz show Countdown Rachel Riley said:

Being bad at maths shouldn't be something to brag about and I'm glad people are waking up to this, but there's no reason be embarrassed to look for help when it comes to numeracy. There's no such thing as a 'maths brain'.

Anyone can be numerate, it's just a matter of confidence. There are so many opportunities to improve your skills during everyday life, doing even a little a day can make maths feel more familiar and less scary.

National Numeracy’s message has also been backed by Martin Lewis, the founder of, who said: “Maths is the lifeblood of good money saving, helping you understand when you’re getting a good deal and when you’re being ripped off.”

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov PLC. Total sample size was 2,148 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 9th–10th March 2015. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). 

Read the full findings