Written by:
Mike Ellicock, CEO, National Numeracy

You are paid £9 per hour and get a 5% pay increase. What is your new rate of pay?”

This question has been used in a range of surveys recently and across all of them somewhere between a quarter and half of the adult population fail to answer this question correctly, even with a calculator or phone.

In 2015 the Financial Conduct Authority produced an infographic in their Occasional paper 8 on consumer vulnerability. Here we have reproduced this data, representing each vulnerability as a proportion of the UK working age population.

Remarkably, half of all adults are at the level we expect of a primary school child when it comes to numeracy; inevitably including millions of your customers and potentially many of your staff.

The key thing here is that these are adults – a little simple maths shows that it will take generations to turn around the numeracy issue if we only focus on school children. We have to also identify and support these c.20 million working age adults who have left the education system and are no longer in contact with any kind of skills training, but are in contact with you as your customers or staff.

And the correlation with financial capability is increasingly striking. A report from the Money Advice Service showed that people struggling with questions such as the one above were less likely to save money and more likely to fall behind with the bills (even controlling for income and other variables). Financial capability is complex and incorporates many factors, but if you don’t get the figures you are less likely to make good decisions.

A new approach

National Numeracy has evidence that adults can improve their numeracy skills, attitudes and confidence – and thereby financial capability – relatively quickly and without engaging with the formal education and skills system. We have found that it is possible to identify and address poor numeracy and of those who have engaged with this process, 77% have improved.

Our approach presents an explicit national focus on the ‘Essentials of Numeracy’, that is, the practical maths skills and understanding that everyone needs in order to cope with everyday life and to function well at work.

How many of your vulnerable customers struggle with numeracy? Are you working with us yet to support them?

This Wednesday is the inaugural National Numeracy Day: we’re letting the nation know that numeracy matters for individuals and for ‘UK plc’.

A national campaign which is supported by leading voices and a range of over 80 organisations, this is an opportunity for us to come together to celebrate the importance of numeracy. Whilst it’s not a new cause, in the current economic climate more crucial than ever.

National Numeracy Day won’t solve things in one hit, but with your help we can start to change the national psyche from “I can’t do maths” to “we’re all numbers people”.

National Numeracy Day resources are available at www.numeracyday.com

Numeracy: the biggest hidden customer vulnerability