Covid job losses in London disproportionately impact people with low numeracy skills


Improving the numeracy skills of workers who have lost their jobs over the course of the Covid pandemic could hold one of the keys to a fairer recovery in London according to new research by charity Pro Bono Economics, commissioned by KPMG for National Numeracy. Around 56% of those in the region who have lost their jobs so far in the crisis are likely to be individuals with low numeracy skills, the equivalent of 109,000 people.

This disproportionate impact stems from the serious effect the pandemic has had on sectors such as hospitality and retail, where workers possess lower numeracy skills on average. The report found that 713,000 jobs across the UK have been lost from sectors employing greater numbers of people with low numeracy skills compared with just 81,000 jobs that have been lost in sectors with a lower proportion of employees with low numeracy skills.

The report also notes the sizeable potential advantage associated with boosting the numeracy skills of those who are still in work. Across London, 3.5 million workers are thought to have low numeracy levels, leaving them earning up to £2,900 a year less than they potentially could if they had a ‘basic’ level of numeracy instead.

With current expectations that unemployment won’t return to pre-pandemic levels for several years, the report – Counting on the Recovery: The role for numeracy skills in ‘levelling up’ the UK – shows that supporting those people who struggle with numbers by building their numeracy skills could help them improve their chances of finding work, boost people’s earning potential and help the UK level up.

The potential to get people back to work in a faster and fairer way was also highlighted. Sectors employing a higher proportion of workers with more advanced numeracy skills, such as technology and financial services, have grown 24% over the ten years up to the start of the current crisis. That compares to growth of 15% for sectors such as hospitality and retail, which have a higher proportion of workers with low numeracy skills. If the right investments in numeracy skills are made, it could support those who have lost jobs back into employment in sectors that have a greater potential for growth.

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England and Vice-chair of National Numeracy and co-founder of Pro Bono Economics, 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 – the potential £6.9 billion that could be added to the collective pay packet in London 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.

“Tackling the UK’s numeracy crisis ought to have been a public policy priority before the Covid crisis struck. In the light of Covid, it has now become both a national necessity and a national opportunity to level-up jobs, incomes and regions.”

National Numeracy is an independent charity that helps people get on with numbers to get on in life, providing support, tools and training for improving number confidence and skills.