Covid-19 has exposed an adult numeracy “crisis”, with tens of thousands of unemployed Scots facing bleak prospects because they find it difficult to complete basic tasks such as understanding pay slips and working out discounts.

The warning comes in new research that is calling for more to be done to help those with the lowest confidence and skills take the first step and access learning opportunities.

It found around 74 per cent of workers north of the Border who have lost their jobs in the crisis – the equivalent of 38,000 people – are likely to be individuals who struggle with numeracy.

The disproportionate impact is due to the serious effect that the pandemic has had on sectors such as hospitality and retail, where staff possess lower skills on average.

Andy Haldane, Bank of England Chief Economist, has warned that the study shows the UK is facing a “numeracy crisis”.

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According to the new report, which was produced by Pro Bono Economics (PBE) and commissioned by KPMG for the independent charity National Numeracy (NN), 713,000 jobs across the UK have been shed in industries employing greater numbers of people who find arithmetic a challenge.

While praising the Scottish Government’s efforts to expand adult basic skills provision, NN leaders said there remained huge difficulties around reaching out to those who lack confidence, or who feel that the effort required to improve their abilities would be too costly and time-consuming.

The charity has also stressed that, for millions across Scotland and Britain, the mere mention of maths is enough to spark feelings of fear and anxiety as a result of negative experiences at school.

It is urging ministers to embed the National Numeracy Challenge into adult education, employment and skills-building programmes, and says its “proven, cost-effective method” could encourage hundreds of thousands of people to start learning.

NN leaders added that the rewards for Scottish society could be massive.

HeraldScotland: Andy Haldane, who is due to leave the Bank of England later this year, said the research findings were concerning.Andy Haldane, who is due to leave the Bank of England later this year, said the research findings were concerning.

“If we want a more equitable recovery, accompanied by vibrant, resilient, highly competitive regional economies, investing in basic skills at the locallevel, particularly for those with low numeracy, is essential,” said Sam Sims, NN Chief Executive.

“As we rebuild our workforce, addressing the issue of poor numeracy will play a central role in job creation.

“For individuals, improved numeracy could give access to broader, more sustainable job opportunities.

“For regions, it could help attract investment, create jobs in growth industries and level-up local economies.”

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He added: “Millions struggle with number confidence and skills, but with the right support, everyone can improve, to their own benefit and that of the country.”

Researchers said that, across Scotland, 1.9 million workers were thought to have low skills, leaving them earning up to £1,500 a year less than they could be if they had a “basic” level of numeracy.

With the average wage north of the Border also around 6% below the UK figure, the PBE report – called Counting on the Recovery – shows that helping people build number skills may increase their chances of finding work and boost salary potential.

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary John Swinney.Education Secretary John Swinney.

Andy Haldane, who is also NN Vice-Chair and co-founder of PBE, said: “The UK faces a numeracy crisis, plain and simple.

“This crisis is having significant economic costs, especially for those least advantaged in society.

“This cost can be counted in lost earnings – such as the potential £1.9 billion that could be added to the collective pay packet in Scotland if numeracy skills were levelled-up. And these costs have been increased by Covid, which has hit hardest those whose numeracy skills are fewest.

“Looking ahead, one of the key tasks of economic policy will be to return people to well-paying jobs in left-behind parts of the country.

“Rising to this challenge was never going to be easy. But tackling the adult numeracy crisis, at source, could help us do it, by boosting job and income prospects for those living in the UK’s least-advantaged regions and nations.”

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Claire Warnes, Partner and Head of Education, Skills and Productivity at KPMG UK, said: “A skilled and numerate workforce is critical for business success, and by extension our economy’s success.

“Yet, when it comes to numeracy, the UK lags behind global peers.

“Those with low numeracy have been disproportionately impacted by unemployment in the wake of Covid.

“As we focus on recovery, it’s vital businesses continue to promote lifelong learning – to bolster employees’ future career prospects and adaptability, as well as to improve productivity.

“The crucial role businesses play in improving social mobility can’t be overlooked either and those efforts will be needed now more than ever.”

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Education Scotland (ES), which is responsible for supporting learning quality and improvement, said it had a range of initiatives and schemes in place to boost outcomes across the school age and adult populations.

The agency and the Scottish Government have also jointly participated in National Numeracy Day since 2018 as “lead supporters”, with this year’s festival due to focus on improving number confidence and skills.

The event will look towards postvaccine Covid-19 recovery across three key themes: numeracy for work, managing money and supporting children’s numeracy.

ES will also help promote the campaign to schools and parents.

The agency leads other work to support the development of adult numeracy in line with its commitments to delivering Making Maths Count, a project that seeks to boost enthusiasm for the subject north of the Border.

In addition, it provides professional learning and networking opportunities to adult education practitioners who deliver numeracy assistance in community and development settings.