The vast majority of England's constituencies have “serious literacy issues”, according to charity The National Literacy Trust (NLT), following new analysis carried out by the NLT and credit referencing agency Experian.
The analysis found that 86% of constituencies (a total of 458 out of 533) contain at least one ward with literacy issues. The extent to which the problem is "on all our doorsteps" left the project's lead analyst "shocked". The NLT said: "Children’s futures will be put in jeopardy if action isn’t taken at a local level to tackle England’s deep-rooted literacy crisis."
To carry out the analysis, a new metric was created, a "literacy vulnerability score", which explored the social factors most closely linked with low literacy. Researchers used data from the 2011 Census as well as Experian's own Mosaic socio-demographic classification system (which combines data from over 7,000 sources). Metrics included unemployment, qualification level, income, social mix of local population and area characteristics. The education attainment data for children was not included.
Particular areas of concentration are around the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber and the North West, and inner cities appear to have the greatest needs. All 50 places suffering the most come from cities, towns or districts surrounding urban areas; rural areas are less affected.
The research was launched at The House of Commons at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy on Monday (6th February) along with a tailored report for MPs to help them understand the specific challenges in their constituencies.
Jonathan Douglas, director of the NLT, said: "For 20 years, the government has addressed England’s widening literacy gap through national strategies. We now know that a new, targeted approach is needed as our work with Experian reveals the country’s literacy challenge to be intensely local. Strong local leadership and partnerships are vital to tackling this and MPs are ideally-placed to drive effective local solutions.
“We know that local strategies work – we set up a National Literacy Trust Hub in Middlesbrough in 2013, which has already had a vital impact on the number of children reaching a good level of development at age five and has significantly closed the attainment gap with the national average.”
Richard Jenkings, lead analytics consultant at Experian, said: “It doesn’t come as a surprise that levels of literacy are strongly related to households and the neighbourhood in which people live, with urban areas facing the biggest challenges. There is a clear correlation between literacy and income, levels of education, long-term unemployment rates, levels of motivation and depression, as well as with intergenerational needs and growing up in a family with no work culture.
"However, what shocked me the most in the analysis was just how far reaching the problem of low literacy is in England – it’s on all of our doorsteps, regardless of location."
The NLT said: "Low literacy undermines the country’s economic competitiveness and creates obstacles to a fairness across the whole of society. 5.1 million adults in England don’t have the reading or writing skills expected of an 11-year-old, and poor literacy cost the UK economy £81bn a year in lost earnings and increased welfare spending."