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Half of UK adults have numeracy skills of a primary school child: take the test now

Joanna Faith
Written By:
Joanna Faith

Millions of adults lack basic numeracy skills, leaving them unprepared for the workplace and everyday life, according to a new report.

Around half of working-age adults have the numeracy level of a primary school child and this is costing the economy £388m a week, the charity National Numeracy says.

It asked 2,000 adults aged 16-75 five multiple choice maths questions. Respondents were given no time limit and were free to use a calculator or pen and paper to help work out the answers.

More than half (56 per cent) of people scored 2 or fewer, roughly equivalent to the level expected of a primary school child.

In a follow up survey, 101 MPs were asked to estimate the percentage of people with poor numeracy and the cost of poor numeracy to the economy.

Some 83 per cent underestimated the number of adults with numeracy skills at primary school levels and 89 per cent underestimated the cost of poor numeracy to the UK economy, with the average of the estimates being £214m, which falls short of the actual figure of £388m per week.

Business leaders also underestimated the scale of the problem.

Confidence with numbers was found to be at its lowest among those who have just exited the education system, according to the report, published in association with interdealer broker TP ICAP.

Fear of maths is the biggest barrier to a good numeracy score, as opposed to actual ability.

The charity is calling for a national campaign to build confidence with numbers and encourage a growth mindset.

Mike Ellicock, chief executive of National Numeracy said:“There are millions of people whose confidence with numbers has been completely shattered for one reason or another. It’s the number one barrier to improvement – yet none of the adult skills initiatives over the years, including those currently proposed, pay any attention to overcoming this.

“It’s encouraging to see that MPs and business leaders agree with our call for a renewed focus and it’s vital that the next government act to definitively change things.”

Bobby Seagull, television presenter, maths teacher and National Numeracy ambassador said: “As a school maths teacher, I have seen too many young people and their parents experiencing maths anxiety. This can damage their long-term confidence with numbers.

“As a nation, we need to challenge the notion that only a certain kind of person can do maths. With the right attitude, effort and support, we can build a nation where everyone can be confident with numeracy.”

How good are your skills?

Here are the questions National Numeracy posed in its survey. See below for the answers.

  1. If a scarf costs £11.70 after a 10% reduction, what was the original price?
    a) £12.50
    b) £13.25
    c) £13.99
    d) £13.00
    e) I don’t know
  2. Mike’s lunch contains 640 calories of energy. What percentage is this of his target daily intake of 2000 calories?
    a) 45%
    b) 62%
    c) 65%
    d) 32%
    e) I don’t know
  3. Rail tickets increased by 2% in year 1, and 5% in year 2. What was the overall increase over the two years?
    a) 7%
    b) 7.1%
    c) 10%
    d) 10.7%
    e) I don’t know
  4. These are three offers on the same ketchup. Which is the best value for money?
    a) 275g for £1.05
    b) 454g for £1.99
    c) 650g for £2.20
    d) 425g: buy two for £3.10
    e) I don’t know
  5. A laptop costs £899, including VAT at 20%. How much of the purchase price is VAT?
    a) £179.80
    b) £89.80
    c) £125.00
    d) None of these
    e) I don’t know



Answers: 1: d, 2: d, 3: b, 4: c, 5: d