Almost 17 million adults have basic maths skills that are no better than those of children aged between nine and 11, shocking research has revealed.
More than five million people are struggling with simple reading and writing, the survey for the Government of more than 7,000 people in England aged 16-65 found.
The findings reveal that many adults still have maths and English skills similar to those expected of primary school children.
Campaigners warned that there are “far too many” people with poor basic skills and more needs to be done for them.
In total 16.8 million adults, nearly half, have numeracy skills equivalent to the achievement expected of a child aged nine to 11.
Adults with skills below this level would struggle to pay household bills or understand price labels on pre-packaged food.
This is up on 2003, the last time the survey was conducted, when 14.9 million adults had numeracy skills at or below the level.
In literacy, 5.1 million adults – about one in seven – were at or below the same level, down slightly from 2003.
The survey also reveals that millions of adults are no better at maths and English than five to seven-year-olds.
In total, 2.3 million people in England were found to be at the level of attainment for five to seven-year-olds in numeracy, while 1.7 million – one in 20 – were at this stage for literacy.
Adults below this level may not be able to write short messages to family or select floor numbers in lifts.
Carol Taylor, director for research and development at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said: “We have far too many people with very poor basic skills in this country and the system isn’t working for them.”
She said the results of the survey showed a welcome increase in adults with basic literacy skills.
But she added: “Put simply, around one in six of the adult population has difficulty with aspects of reading and writing which means they are seriously disadvantaged as employees, citizens and parents.
“And around one in four of the adult population struggle with the basics of numeracy, a skill which can have a greater impact on life chances than literacy.
“This is why we’re calling for a specific challenge fund to help those with the lowest skills.”
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said: “Literacy and numeracy skills are essential for social mobility and economic growth. This Government is committed to ensuring that all those without basic literacy and numeracy skills have access to free training and we are making that training as effective as possible.”
Calculator ban wins support
PRIMARY school pupils could be banned from using calculators until they have learned basic sums, Ministers said yesterday.
The idea emerged amid concerns that an over-reliance on calculators is damaging children’s arithmetic
Schools Minister Nick Gibb suggested that calculators should only be used once pupils had mastered basic maths, including knowing their times tables by heart.
“We need to look at the use of calculators in primary schools,” he said.
“Children can become too dependent on calculators if they use them at too young an age.
“They shouldn’t be reaching for a gadget every time they need to do a simple sum.”
The issue will be looked at as part of a continuing review of the national curriculum.