Business

Low numeracy levels costing workers an average £1,500 a year

 PBE economists say boosting numeracy skills could play a key role in levelling up incomes in the north.
Gary McDonald Business Editor

HAVING low numeracy levels is costing the average Northern Ireland worker more than £1,500 a year and impacting their ability to keep their jobs, a new report claims.

And Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane is warning of a "numeracy crisis" affecting the least-advantaged.

The 'Counting on the Recovery' research by charity Pro Bono Economics (PBE), commissioned by KPMG for National Numeracy, found that 53 per cent of those in Northern Ireland who have lost their jobs so far in the crisis are likely to be individuals with low numeracy skills, the equivalent of 13,000 people.

And more than 500,000 workers with low numeracy skills in Northern Ireland are estimated to be earning up to £1,500 less per year on average than if they had a basic level of numeracy skills.

Low numeracy is defined as people not being able to fully understand their pay slips, work out discounts such as 10 or 25 per cent off, convert bills from monthly to quarterly amounts, or make calculations involving time and dates.

With the average wage in Northern Ireland around 14 per cent below the UK average, PBE economists say boosting numeracy skills could play a key role in levelling up incomes.

The potential to get people back to work in a faster and fairer way was also highlighted.

Sectors employing a higher proportion of workers with more advanced numeracy skills, such as technology and financial services, have grown 24 per cent over the ten years up to the start of the current crisis.

This compares to growth of 15 per cent for sectors such as hospitality and retail, which have a higher proportion of workers with low numeracy skills.

Mr Haldane, who is also vice-chair of National Numeracy and co-founder of PBE, said: “The UK faces a numeracy crisis, plain and simple, and this crisis is having significant economic costs, especially for those least-advantaged in society.

“This cost can be counted in lost earnings – such as the potential £700 million that could be added to the collective pay packet in Northern Ireland if numeracy skills were levelled-up.

“One of the key tasks of economic policy will be to return people to well-paying jobs in left-behind parts of the country, and tackling the adult numeracy crisis at source could help us do this by boosting job and income prospects for those living in the least-advantaged regions and nations.”

He added: “Tackling this numeracy crisis ought to have been a public policy priority before Covid, but it has now become both a national necessity and a national opportunity to level-up jobs, incomes and regions.”

 

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