Almost 50 per cent of adults can't do basic maths (that means half)

Decline of numeracy skills leaves 17 million adults in England at level expected of 11-year-olds

Almost half the adults in England only have the maths skills of a primary school child, according to a report out today.

Click HERE to view 'Number crunching: You take the test' graphic

Figures show that while literacy rates are improving, the number of adults who have numeracy skills no better than those expected of an 11-year-old has shot up from 15 million to 17 million – 49 per cent of the adult population – in the last eight years.

Part of the problem, according to National Numeracy, a new charity launched today, is that it has become socially acceptable to boast of poor mathematical skills.

The consequences are jeopardising both the economy and individuals' ability to understand the pay and deductions on their wage slips.

Chris Humphries, chairman of National Numeracy and former chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, said: "It is simply not acceptable for anyone to say 'I can't do maths'.

"It is a peculiarly British disease we aim to eradicate. It tends not to happen in other parts of the world and it's hitting our international competitiveness."

A poll carried out for the new charity of 2,000 adults by YouGov found that while 80 per cent would be embarrassed to tell someone they were bad at reading and writing, only slightly more than half (56 per cent) would feel ashamed to say they were bad at maths.

Yet Mr Humphries insisted that numeracy was, in fact, more important than literacy to one's future, as demonstrated by three recent studies.

"All three concluded that numeracy was a bigger indicator of negative outcomes than literacy," he said. "This was a bit of a surprise to the basic skills world but not to us. There is a strong correlation between lack of numeracy and multiple disadvantages."

He added: "People with poor numeracy are twice as likely to be unemployed while 65 per cent of young people in jail have the lowest levels of numeracy."

He put the problem down to the fact that improvements in basic skills had focused on literacy, partly because a large publishing industry was prepared to invest in improving reading skills while further education colleges struggled to find enough maths teachers.

"There are not enough well-trained numeracy teachers. Those with a strong background in mathematics have far better opportunities outside teaching".

Mass use of calculators only had a limited effect, added Mr Humphries. "Even with calculators they can't do these problems because they don't have enough understanding to interpret problems or analyse them," he said.

Sir Mike Rake, the chairman of BT, said compared with literacy, "numeracy may be an even clearer indicator of economic and personal success."

Case study: 'I struggled to the point that I was crying'

Paula Rodrigues, 35, a mother-of-three from London. She studied maths GCSE at City and Islington College

"When my children went to school I went to work in a hospital. I went for the interview and I passed the reading test so they gave me the job. But I struggled with the basic maths test to the point that I was crying. It was terrifying and embarrassing... I wanted to get a job as a teaching assistant but I couldn't get an interview without maths. [Studying maths] was hard at first. I never thought I could do it. My daughter is now doing GCSEs so I can help her. I can apply for jobs and it has changed everything"

Number crunching: You take the test

1. Screws come in packets of 30. Each bracket needs four screws. What will one packet of screws be enough for?

A: 6 brackets with 3 screws left over; B: 7 brackets with 2 screws left over; C: 7 brackets with 3 screws left over; D: 8 brackets exactly

2. Hasran has planned a new TV cupboard. A TV is 40cm wide and will sit in the middle of a shelf that is 900mm wide. How wide is the gap on each side of the TV?

A: 10cm; B. 25cm; C. 43cm; D. 50cm

3. Match these discounts with the following labels:

1. £300 reduced to £180

2. £240 reduced to 160

3. £350 reduced to £280

Labels: A. Amazing 1/3 off! B. Massive 20% off! C. Slashed by 30%! D. Reduced by 40p in the £

Answers: 1. B 2. B 3. 3 (1-D; 2-A; 3-B)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Reach Volunteering: Would you like to volunteer your expertise as Chair of Governors for Livability?

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Ashdown Group: Payroll Administrator - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + substantial benefits: Ashdown Group: Finance Admin...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine