Illiteracy costs the UK economy £81 billion annually

Published on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 11:02
Written by Scott Buckler

The estimated cost of illiteracy to the UK economy is £81.312 billion each year, according to a preliminary report just released by the World Literacy Foundation

The report highlights the statistic that at least 6 million adults in the UK are functionally illiterate. This means one in five adults struggle with illiteracy.

The report says the direct economic cost is in the individuals and businesses which lose about £58 billion through lower wages or business earnings due to poor literacy.

In addition, this does not include the opportunity cost of individual wealth creation or entrepreneurship lost because a significant proportion of the population struggle to read and write.

The report says the social cost is represented in the £23.312 billion spent on welfare and unemployment benefits and social programmes related to health, crime and poverty.

Also the report says an illiterate adult will earn an income at least 30% less than a literate person.

World Literacy Foundation CEO Andrew Kay called for a greater level of action from the UK Government to address the literacy crisis:

“The issue of illiteracy affects over six million people in the UK and almost 800 million worldwide,” he said.

“One of the best things we can do to stamp out poverty in the world is to improve literacy. This is the key to getting people into jobs, increasing their income and enabling them to take part in society.”

Mr Kay said the Foundation was also convening the inaugural World Literacy Summit in Oxford running from 1-4 April 2012, where the final report will be released.

This is the first time ever a conference has been dedicated to addressing the problem of world literacy and its link to poverty,” he said.

“Leaders and experts from the literacy community in the UK and around the world will attend this conference to build a collective plan of action to make inroads into wiping out illiteracy.”

World Literacy Summit Committee Chairman Dr Anthony Cree said literacy is vital for the economic success and community prosperity of the UK.

The UK is missing out on an injection of funds into its economy worth billions of dollars,” he said.

He said it was obvious from the report that low levels of literacy can be a predictor of poverty, unemployment, poor health and crime.

If a person does not have the solid base of literacy and numeracy skills that so many of us take for granted, their opportunities in life are more limited.

“Many higher-paying job and training opportunities are closed to them, they are more likely to turn to a life of crime.

“They make poor decisions about their health due to the inability to read and understand health messages and information.

“In addition, the children of illiterate people are also more likely to be illiterate and follow this same vicious cycle of poverty and disadvantage.”


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