31 October 2023

Politicians are finally waking up to the need for financial education

By Daniel Harrison

After a decade of campaigning for better financial literacy, I’m the most hopeful I’ve been that politicians are finally giving it the attention it deserves.

For years, we’ve known that the UK falls far behind our peers when it comes to preparing our children to manage their finances and for the world of work. Being ranked 15th out of 29 OECD countries simply isn’t good enough in a world where every country is competing for economic growth.

Businesses, including mine, have faced difficulties hiring young people with the right skills. For older workers, technological advancements have meant more and more jobs require a basic grounding in applying maths to tasks like data analysis and coding. The result has been an economy where the lack of basic numeracy skills costs £25bn a year.

This isn’t just a problem for businesses. Our poor relationship with money is also stopping us looking after the oldest in society in the way that they deserve. We all suspect the triple lock pension will eventually be too expensive for the state to keep topping up, but workers are simply not saving enough for retirement.

Until now, these problems have been too easy for politicians to kick down the road. But the disruption in our economy, from sticky inflation to sky-high energy bills, has left families making difficult choices about the money in their bank accounts. A recent survey my company conducted found half of Brits find managing their finances stressful either some or all of the time, rising to two-thirds of 25-49 year olds. Politicians have finally been faced with no choice but to act.

My hope has been spurred by the Conservatives promising another two years of maths education and Labour promising a focus on real world maths. These are both important steps forward – but it’s Labour’s proposals that I’m most excited about.

Under their proposals, children will learn maths through the prism of household budgeting, currency exchange rates for going on holiday, sports league tables and cookery recipes. Financial products like Individual Savings Accounts will be used to teach about percentages. It’s still maths but it’s applied to the real world. It’s used how we all use maths for our families finances, for leisure and at work. And it’s about time it was introduced.

Research from my company suggests that the public are more excited about Labour’s plans too. 94% of Labour voters and 92% of Conservative voters support reforming maths to place more emphasis on real world applications. You don’t get policies with that kind of universal support very often.

The problem is we need reform now. For too long the private sector has had to step in to fill the gap. Ever since we began campaigning for reform to maths education, my company has worked with the Open University to offer free financial education courses to people online and almost one million people have accessed the courses to date. We also have 115 of our own financial advisers in schools up and down the country, providing lessons to 30,000 children. We’ll keep going, but much more needs to be done.

So while I’m hopeful that the announcements from the Conservatives and Labour signal change, my message is that we need to put real life applications at the heart of every child’s maths lessons now. The sad truth is that although sometimes politicians steal each other’s policies, at other times they refuse to adopt a policy – even when they agree with it. Introducing real world maths reforms cannot be one of those instances. This isn’t tomorrow’s problem. It’s today’s problem. And we need reform now.

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Daniel Harrison is the chief executive of True Potential.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.