Why is numeracy important?

“Good numeracy is the best protection against unemployment, low wages and poor health.”

Andreas Schleicher

dr talking to patient

We use maths in every aspect of our lives at work and in practical everyday activities at home and beyond. We use maths when we go shopping or plan a holiday, decide on a mortgage or decorate a room. Good numeracy is essential to us as parents helping our children learn, as patients understanding health information, as citizens making sense of statistics and economic news. Decisions in life are so often based on numerical information; to make the best choices, we need to be numerate.

Numeracy and the individual

Numeracy in everyday life

We use numeracy every day in all areas of our lives. Our confidence and ability with numbers impacts us financially, socially, and professionally. It even affects our health and wellbeing. 

Some examples of the ways we use maths every day include:

  • Working out how many minutes until our train
  • Increasing a recipe to serve extra guests
  • Checking we've received the right change
  • Working out how much to tip in a restaurant
  • Setting and keeping to a budget
  • Helping children with homework
  • Managing our diet and nutrition
  • Measuring medicine doses
  • Making sense of statistics and graphs in the news

Poor numeracy can affect people’s confidence and self-esteem. Testimonials from our learners have demonstrated that improving numeracy directly contributes to growth in personal and social confidence.

Numeracy Stories

The growing need for numeracy

Our need for a good level of numeracy only increases as we get older.

When we start thinking about mortgages, the financial implications of borrowing money, interest rates and pensions it's essential that we're numerate enough to make informed decisions. 

So many of the important decisions we must make as adults are based on numbers. This means that people who are not confident and capable with numbers are estimated to be worse off than those with good numeracy skills. A report in 2014 for National Numeracy by Pro Bono Economics found that the average cost to individuals with poor numeracy is £460 a year.

The impact of poor numeracy

There is a lot of evidence linking low numeracy skills with poor outcomes:  

  • Employment
    People with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to face unemployment
  • Wages
    Recent data by the OECD show a direct relationship between wage distribution and numeracy skills 
  • Money
    Good numeracy is linked to a range of positive financial behaviours including saving frequency and keeping up with bills
  • Health
    In OECD and UK basic skills reports, the correlation between poor numeracy and poor health is clear. Data from the British Cohort Studies have shown that there is also a link between depression and poor numeracy
  • Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties
    Children with these problems are more likely to struggle with numeracy, even taking into account factors such as home background and general ability
  • School exclusions
    Pupils beginning secondary school with very low numeracy skills are more likely to face exclusion
  • Truancy
    14-year-olds who have poor maths skills at 11 are more than twice as likely to play truant
  • Crime
    A quarter of young people in custody have a numeracy level below that expected of a 7-year-old. Similarly, 65% of adult prisoners have numeracy skills at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old

 Why is numeracy important?

Numeracy in the UK

Poor numeracy costs the UK dearly; research from Pro Bono Economics estimates poor numeracy skills cost the economy £20.2 billion every year. That cost is borne jointly by individuals, employers and the public purse. The UK needs a numerate population in order to build a strong economy and compete globally – especially with those countries which outstrip us in numeracy performance.

Pro Bono Economics Report

signs saying new skills and training

The Digital Age

The digital age presents us with more numerical data than ever before and puts a new premium on numeracy skills.

Computers can do the maths for us, but we need good numeracy in order to use them effectively – to enter the right data and decide whether the answer seems about right.

Right now around 90% of new graduate jobs require a high level of digital skills (Race Online 2012), and digital skills are built on numeracy.

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. 

You can use the Challenge on your phone, tablet or home-computer. Save your progress as you go - no timer means you can dip in and out in your own time.   

Think about how you feel about maths, and watch real life stories to find out how others feel too. These show that our attitudes towards maths are varied and shared by others. 

Start the Challenge