Imposition of VAT on books 'threat to literacy'

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IMPOSING value-added tax on books will reduce literacy and damage the long-term competitiveness of the British workforce, according to a Gallup poll published yesterday.

The poll, of 970 customers of W H Smith, the retail chain, suggests that children's reading may also suffer; 55 per cent of regular buyers of children's books said they would buy fewer if VAT was imposed.

Three-quarters of those interviewed thought higher book prices would reduce literacy and industrial competitiveness, while 82 per cent viewed the availability of affordable books as 'very important' to literacy standards. About 90 per cent of the sample - slightly more among Conservative voters - thought it 'very important' that reading played a central role in the Government's education policy.

The findings were greeted by the National Literacy Trust as evidence of widespread support for the campaign against VAT on books. Neil McClelland, its director, said it would 'inevitably' lead to fewer books in classrooms and school libraries. 'Taxing books is tantamount to taxing literacy, learning and the investment in our children's and nation's future,' he said.