In a speech to the Institute of Directors, Johnson told delegates that five million adults can’t read and nearly half the adult workforce does not have the numeracy skills expected of an 11 year old. This means that 15 million adults would not gain a G grade at GCSE maths.These figures are depressing. The number of people lacking basic skills means educational failure has been systemic for decades. It also makes the jobs of those in financial services all the more crucial. The lack of basic skills in the workplace is estimated by the IoD to cost 10bn a year in lost productivity and welfare benefits. The minister argues that “we simply cannot allow ourselves the luxury of failure any longer”, pledging to eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy in the adult workforce by 2020. An ex-union man, Johnson knows first hand the opportunities education and training can bring. He has already defended the shifting focus in further education towards skills, saying: “Tai chi may be valuable to people studying it, but it’s of little value to the economy.” The finance sector must support this reform out of enlightened self-interest. For years we have talked about the need for people to be taught money management skills but if they can’t add up, how can this be achieved? The less consumers know, the more vulnerable they are. In March this year the Financial Services Authority set out its National Strategy for Financial Capability. This was accompanied by the first baseline research into the nation’s financial capability which revealed, for example, that 40% of people with equity Individual Savings Accounts are not aware that their value fluctuates with stock market performance. The strategy is welcome, especially the plan to develop the teaching of financial capability in schools through the Personal Finance Education Group. But there should be a guarantee that every child receives a grounding in financial capability. This can only be achieved by making it a compulsory part of the school curriculum. Competitive markets rely on informed consumers. Knowing about finance would mean fewer people dependent on government assistance, and numeracy is a building block to financial capability. Without the two many people will not be able to make the most of their life chances.
There has rightly been a focus on improving financial capability in the past few years and secretary of state for education Alan Johnson recently revealed the extent of the problem.