Skip to main content
Home » Managing Your Money » Why a lack of core numeracy skills is a cost to individuals and society

Lucy-Marie Hagues

CEO, Capital One UK

Sam Sims

CEO, National Numeracy 

Many people struggle with number confidence, even though it’s a vital skill to have in our everyday lives. However, there are ways to make numbers engaging and fun while improving confidence.

If you don’t like dealing with numbers — maybe you’re even a bit scared — you might tell yourself that you don’t need to be numerate. You don’t have any use for that skill set in your work or personal life, so it doesn’t matter. 

However, you’d be fooling yourself. Basic numeracy can help you budget for your weekly shop, for instance, decipher interest rates (useful if you have a mortgage) or understand your monthly incomings and outgoings.  

You will encounter numbers — in some form — whatever your job. “Maths and numeracy are everywhere,” says Lucy-Marie Hagues, CEO of credit card provider, Capital One UK. “Having confidence with numbers makes life easier because they are intrinsic to everything we do.”  

Basic numeracy is key to managing your money 

Sam Sims agrees. As the CEO of charity National Numeracy, he wants to improve how people understand and work with numbers in day-to-day life, to generate better opportunities and brighter futures.

“After all, from the moment we get up in the morning, we’re using maths — even if it’s just working out how long we have to get ready before leaving the house. When it comes to managing your money, numeracy is an important way to help you feel more in control and make your finances go further.” His message is: however you feel about numbers, you are not alone. We can all improve. 

We want to reach as many people as possible with our message that everyone can improve their numeracy.

Shifting mindsets towards numbers  

Yet, the fact is that there is a mystique around maths because it’s perceived as a ‘hard’ subject. As a result, young women (under 25) and girls (10–18) are disproportionately impacted by a lack of core numeracy skills. “Our research highlights that women are twice as anxious as men when it comes to using numbers and maths,” says Sims. “In addition, 35% of women aged 18–21 consider themselves anxious when making financial decisions, and 24% are not confident when working out numerical problems.”  

That has implications for career choices, argues Hagues. “Girls select away from maths-oriented careers” she says. “When I look at pipelines of graduates coming into the full range of finance careers, they don’t tend to include lots of young women. If they’re like me, that’s because maths was an enabler to careers like medicine as opposed to something to be enjoyed for itself.” 

Helping young people engage with numbers and numeracy 

Capital One UK wants to shake things up and, as part of its mission to change the world of credit, one small, good thing at a time, is working with National Numeracy to focus on the link between numeracy and social mobility. Over the last year, the company has funded vital research and has been a lead supporter of two National Numeracy campaigns — National Numeracy Day and Number Confidence Week — and hosted a range of internal speaker events, one of which featured National Numeracy ambassador and Countdown co-presenter Rachel Riley

It has also helped National Numeracy develop and launch a corporate volunteering programme, with employees visiting primary schools to help young people become more engaged with numbers and numeracy. “We believe that promoting numeracy is the key to creating financial confidence and a cohort of people to work in the financial industry of the future,” says Hagues. “Gaps in maths confidence start at a young age, so this is a way to tackle the problem at the root.” 

Sims says: “We want to reach as many people as possible with our message that everyone can improve their numeracy.” He adds: “Creating this programme together and leveraging the experiences of Capital One UK volunteers has helped significantly expand the impact we have.” 

Next article