UK Adults Display 'Strikingly Bad' Financial Skills


March 2018

UK Adults Display 'Strikingly Bad' Financial Skills

A new study has indicated a lack of basic maths skills among many adults across the country.

One in four people found it difficult to work out how much change they should receive in a shop and one half were unable to understand a financial line graph.

The data, compiled by researchers from Cambridge University and University College London showed many people had “striking weaknesses” when it came to simple financial skills. The conclusion was reached after interviewing a cross section 16-35-year olds in 31 different countries and asking them a range of different maths questions. Certain nationalities were found to perform well across the various tasks they were set with, namely Finland, Estonia and Japan. Towards the bottom end of the table were England and Northern Island with countries like Turkey, Israel, Italy and Spain for company.

Professor John Jerrim who authored the study said the figures showed how the UK “is facing a crisis in terms of adults’ financial literacy skills”.

“We all need to be able to conduct basic financial calculations in order to make rational well-informed decisions,” he said.

“This includes how much we should save into our pensions, understanding the financial implications of borrowing money from payday loan sites, through to whether we can really afford to buy a particular house.”

The study made four main points regarding its findings

  1. One in four adults struggled to work out how much change they were owed in a shop when buying something. In Spain, England and Italy however this figure rose to one in three.
  2. One in three adults found it difficult to determine the price they paid for a product when they were given a price per unit, e.g. per gram or per litre.
  3. Around one half couldn’t decipher a financial line graph which are generally used to relay information about a country’s economy. In Greece, Italy, Turkey and Chile this figure rose to three quarters.
  4. The majority of people interviewed couldn’t accurately work out discounts on complicated transactions.

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton said: “We do need to improve adult numeracy skills, but it’s of note that even in the best performing countries the test is still failed by one in four people.

“Almost half of working-age adults in the country currently have the numeracy levels we expect of primary school children. Numbers are part of everyday life – we use them when cooking, shopping, planning journeys, planning meals and budgeting. All adults can sign up to take free maths qualifications to learn the skills they need to get on in life. They range from entry level all the way up to GCSE and will include financial calculations and real-life scenarios. Last year half a million adults enrolled on a course.”