Most of us take our ability to read for granted and are unaware that there are around 2.4 million adults around us in the UK who either can’t read at all or struggle with this most basic requirement for everyday life.
Reports, statistics and anecdotal evidence indicate the scale of the challenge:
- The percentage of adults who couldn’t read at all (those at or below Entry Level 1 on the adult curriculum) actually increased between 2003 and 2011 from 3.5% to 5%.
- England is the only country in the developed world where the younger generation had worse literacy than those approaching retirement.
- In 2013, England’s 16-24 year olds were ranked 22nd for literacy out of 24 developed countries by the OECD.
- Another report by the OECD found that England is the only country in the developed world in which adults aged 55-to-65 perform better in literacy and numeracy than those aged 16-to-24. This means that in time, the basic skills of the English labour force could fall further behind those of other countries.
- There are strong economic reasons for improving adult literacy levels nationally. The 2009 KPMG report, ‘The long-term costs of literacy difficulties’, concluded that the associated employment cost to the UK economy was £2.5bn per annum.
- Read Easy’s daily experience backs up the statistics as we regularly receive enquiries from across the country not only from referral agencies but also from the individuals themselves who want to learn to read and who describe the difficulties that they face. The resourcefulness required to find Read Easy’s website, and the courage required to make the call, are impressive and humbling in equal measure. It also indicates the level of desperation many people must feel about getting help. The message we hear more often than anything else is that there is no support of any sort in their area for adults with very low reading ability.
- In many areas, funding cuts have meant that Entry Level literacy classes are no longer provided. However, even where classes are still running, many adults are simply too embarrassed and anxious to join a group and are terrified of being humiliated by failing again in public.
- Read Easy’s gentle, free, volunteer-led one-to-one approach allows people to learn in privacy, at their own pace, and with the understanding support of their own dedicated reading coach.
A Skills for Life survey of 16-65 year olds in 2011 found that 5% of adults in England could only recognise a few common words, and a further 2.1% were barely able to read simple health and safety notices at work. It has been shown that adults who struggle to read:
- often struggle with even the most ordinary tasks such as food shopping or using public transport
- are five times more likely to be unemployed and four times more likely to experience long-term unemployment
- struggle to help their children with learning
- have difficulties reading and understanding basic health information, which is associated with higher mortality
- are less likely to vote or take part in public and community life
There are many reasons why people may not have learnt to read as children. Read Easy reading coaches minimise the possible stress and embarrassment involved in learning to read as an adult by providing confidential, one-to-one tuition at flexible times and in discreet and convenient places.
Our achievements to date and ambitions for the year ahead
The first Read Easy group was set up in Dorset in 2010 and there are currently (Spring 2019) 29 affiliated groups across South West and Central England, involving around 700 volunteers in total, either as Management Team Members, group Coordinators, or Reading Coaches. We have recently launched in the North West and have Pioneers working in Wythenshawe and Oldham, which are the beginnings of our efforts and outreach in this region. We will soon be operating in south Birmingham and we would like to be running 40 groups in total by the end of 2020.
In the year ahead, we also hope to gain funding for a London Regional Adviser, so that we can begin to launch further groups in the capital where there are undoubtedly many people needing one-to-one reading support. It is our intention to grow steadily across the UK in areas where the need is greatest.