Society: Lack of basic skills can mean a miserable life

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Those who leave school without basic skills are heading for unemployment, loneliness and illness, according to a survey published yesterday.

A study for the Basic Skills Agency, carried out by London's City University, found that one in five of 1,700 adults questioned had very low literacy or very low numeracy. Some could not even read aloud from a children's book.

Researchers who tracked the adults from birth to the age of 37 found that it was very difficult for people to make up for a poor start later in life: as many people reported problems at 21 as did so at 37.

Those who had most difficulty with reading and maths were likely to have spent at least three more years out of work, were more than four times as likely to live in a household where neither partner was working and were much less likely to have voted in a general election.

Women with poor skills were five times as likely to be classifed as depressed.