Our nation’s poor report card for numeracy skills has been a longstanding challenge, and the current cost-of-living crisis is making that even more apparent.
We all use numbers to navigate day-to-day life – from understanding interest rates to working out value for money while shopping. Nearly half of the UK’s working population has the numeracy levels expected of an 11-year-old child.
That has desperately worrying consequences, leaving those lacking number confidence more vulnerable to debt, unemployment and fraud. And, arguably, that’s more likely in the current climate, which could have lasting consequences for those individuals and for society at large.
We can’t afford to ignore the cost of living crisis, and yet two fifths of Brits are doing just that, according to our research. Numeracy skills might not be the silver bullet to tackle the crisis alone, but they are at the heart of helping people confidently navigate the situation. Nearly 70 per cent of those we asked said their lack of mathematical ability hadn’t been a massive problem for them – until now, as the cost-of-living crisis bites.
Far too many of us have convinced ourselves that if you’re bad with numbers, there’s no way to improve. That is a myth – it’s a skill like any other that can be learnt and improved at any stage in life.
Our research found that nearly half of people have joked about their lack of numeracy skills in the past to make light of something they actually really worry about. But as the current economic climate makes painfully clear, it is no laughing matter. We have to give numeracy skills the attention they deserve, in much the same way we do for literacy.
Yesterday, we marked the National Numeracy Day, of which KPMG is a founding sponsor, because of our fervent belief in the ability of some basic maths to change how we live. It is encouraging to see so many joining the conversation about numbers, so we can finally bring an end to the “bad at maths” boast.
Improving everyday maths does not have to be a gruelling task, only done at the behest of school teachers. There are a myriad of resources available to help brush up, whether it’s for helping to support children, use at work or indeed, while managing money.
Beyond the positive impact this will have on those lacking confidence – helping navigate the cost-of-living crisis or opening doors to more job opportunities – doing so presents not just an economic opportunity but a real chance for our country to tackle inequality.
Poor numeracy is estimated to cost our economy a staggering £25bn a year, so the issue is as much a business one as it is a societal one. Numeracy – combined with literacy and lifelong learning – is a key building block for social mobility, laying the foundations for a healthier and more inclusive economy.
If we are serious about building a more prosperous and fairer economy, we all have a duty – as individuals, businesses, policy makers and education leaders – to address the issue head on. The need for number confidence has been brought into sharp focus as we face into pressures of increased cost of living. But it’s not just about the price tags of goods and services – we can’t ignore the cost to society of leaving the vulnerable behind either.