Sunak backs £560m numeracy plan

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has hailed the importance of a new national programme to address what he called a “tragic” level of poor numeracy skills among UK adults, which hurt their earnings and productivity.

The initiative, named “Multiply”, announced ahead of Wednesday’s Budget, will receive £560m in funding over the next three year from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, the pot of money intended to replace EU structural funds after Brexit.

The push to level up workers’ maths abilities came as part of the government’s broader efforts to boost skills and employment, in order to deliver what Sunak called a “high wage, high skill, high productivity economy of the future”.

“Multiply will improve basic maths skills and help to change people’s lives across the whole United Kingdom,” Sunak said in his Budget speech.

The number skills charity National Numeracy has said that half of working age UK adults have primary school level maths skills, which it said limits employment prospects and social mobility. UK numeracy levels are below the average of other rich nations in the OECD, according to charitable consultant Pro Bono economics.

“I speak to so many people who’ve closed the door to numbers and maths and don’t want to open it again,” said Sam Sims, chief executive of National Numeracy.

The government said the initiative would include flexible classes and online training to help adults with low numbers skills.

The maths skills drive has received support from Andy Haldane, former chief economist of the Bank of England, who will lead the government’s levelling up task force, which aims to boost the economy of UK regions. Haldane last month signed up as chair of a new National Numeracy Leadership Council.

However, some advocates said the government has not done enough to tackle the skills problem. “It’s good to see investment in skills rising again after a lost decade of cuts. However, it looks like this only restores some of the previous cuts and so won’t be enough to transform Britain into a skills superpower,” said Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute.

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