The Impact of poor literacy
Literacy is deﬁned as the ability to communicate and to understand, evaluate, use and engage with written texts. Literacy encompasses a range of skills, from the decoding of written words and sentences to the comprehension, interpretation, and evaluation of complex texts. Sound literacy skills provide the foundation for adults to participate in society, achieve their goals, and develop their knowledge and potential.
The lack of reading skills can be a main contributor to a life of hardship, and to an intergenerational cycle of poverty. As many as 15% of adults in England read at or below a basic level (proﬁcient only at or below what is known as Level 1 in literacy), struggling with basic reading skills that most of us take for granted. In other words, signiﬁcant numbers of adults do not possess the basic information-processing skills considered necessary to succeed in today’s world.
Those with low literacy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than those who can read beyond the most basic of levels. Research shows that the median hourly wage of workers scoring higher on literacy scales – those who can make complex inferences and evaluate truth claims or arguments in written texts – is more than 60% higher than for workers scoring at lower levels – those who can, at best, read relatively short texts or understand only basic written vocabulary.
Today, literacy is more important than ever
We rely today on the written word through communication technologies and devices that hadn’t been imagined even a decade ago. The way we live and work has changed profoundly – and so has the set of skills we need to participate fully in and beneﬁt from our hyper-connected society and increasingly knowledge-based economy. As a result, people with low basic skills proﬁciency (both literacy and digital skills) face a much greater risk of economic disadvantage.
Individuals with low skills are increasingly likely to be left behind. As the demand for skills continues to shift towards more sophisticated tasks, as jobs increasingly involve analysing and communicating information, and as technology pervades all aspects of life, those individuals with poor literacy and numeracy skills are more likely to ﬁnd themselves at risk. Low levels of literacy limits adults’ access to many basic services, to better-paying and more-rewarding jobs, and to the possibility of participating in the further education and training that is crucial for developing and maintaining skills over a working life.
The impact of poor literacy
goes far beyond earnings and employment
Individuals with lower proﬁciency in literacy are also much more likely to believe that they have little influence on political processes, and not to participate in associative or volunteer activities. They also under-utilise the National Health Service out of fear, or because they are unable to follow written instructions, and as a result are much more likely to report poor health.
In England, family background has a major impact on literacy skills. Too often we see that the children of parents with low levels of education have signiﬁcantly lower proficiency than those whose parents have higher levels of education, even after taking other factors into account. As a result, progress has been highly uneven; improvements between younger and older generations are barely apparent. Young people in England are entering a much more demanding labour market, yet they are not much better prepared than those who are retiring. In fact, recent OECD research among developed countries suggests that England is among the three highest-performing countries in literacy when comparing 55-65-year-olds, but among the bottom three countries when comparing literacy proﬁciency among 16-24-year-olds.
The long-term effect of parents’ low literacy can also be profoundly seen on their children; if a parent cannot read, the child starts school at a disadvantage. Then, once the child is in school, the parent is often unable to help with homework. Low literacy becomes intergenerational: the strongest indicator of a child’s success in school is his/her parents’ level of education.
Join us in
ending poor literacy amongst adults
Helping an adult to improve their skills and confidence to read can have a profound and lasting impact on their ability to function successfully within our communities, by improving their ability to find and retain better paid and more secure jobs, and help make better informed decisions that can ensure healthier lives.