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)

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Crewe Teacher Perm Ch...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education is the lea...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Teaching Cheshire

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Long term position in large p...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit