This article is the last part of the FT Inclusion and Financial Education Campaign
What do jumping a queue, asking someone’s age, and talking about numbers and money have in common? All this is taboo in British society. The first two are rude at best and deserve to be avoided in polite conversation.
But it’s bad enough that we feel like we can’t chat about numbers and money. And it can have harmful ramifications for individuals and society.
A YouGov survey commissioned last month by the independent charity National Numeracy revealed this week that people in the UK rarely talk to family or friends about numbers and maths. More than four in five of those surveyed (81 percent) said they don’t often talk about numbers and math, showing that as a nation, we should be much more comfortable having those conversations.
Meanwhile, more than two-fifths (41 percent) often talk about reading and would feel much more embarrassed if they said they’re not good at reading and writing.
The social taboo of talking about math extends to our ability to talk about money and personal finances. With skyrocketing energy bills and skyrocketing food prices, the cost of living crisis is affecting millions. In this climate, we need to have more, rather than fewer, open conversations about numbers and money.
So what can be done to address this reluctance to talk about numbers and money?
In the 1990s, the late actor Bob Hoskins starred in a memorable television campaign featuring the BT catchphrase “It’s good to talk”. He just adds “about numbers and money” to the end and he could be describing a new National Numeracy campaign.
To celebrate the fifth National Numeracy Day on May 18, the charity will launch the Big Number Natter. His goal is to encourage people to join a national conversation about numbers, in hopes of helping to break the taboo on talking about numbers and thus make math a little less scary.
As a high school math teacher, I see firsthand how negative math experiences in the classroom can lead to a horrible specter that haunts people well into their adult lives. My own Cambridge PhD research on maths anxiety indicates that our negative cultural attitudes towards numbers can be just as damaging as our actual competence (surprisingly, half of UK working-age adults have the expected maths skills). of 11-year-old primary school students). .
Many of my high school graduates often wish they had learned more about how to apply arithmetic in real life situations. While there is a post-16 ‘Basic Mathematics’ qualification that can help students develop practical numeracy skills, the compulsory GCSE syllabus should include much more mathematics in personal finance contexts.
The government can encourage a greater understanding of numbers. I am delighted to see that you have released a personal inflation calculator so that people can calculate their own inflation rate. This is important: Everyone spends their money slightly differently, so the effects of rising prices differ from household to household. Right now, the poorest people are seeing higher inflation because energy bills, which are rising so fast, make up a larger share of their monthly spending than for the richest.
So it’s good to see that the Office for National Statistics, after some lobbying, relaunched its personal inflation calculator. It is free and easy to use.
The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee expects inflation to hit a stunning 10.25 percent by the end of the year. Since this is much faster than wage growth, the value of money in our pockets will decrease. This will put holes in family budgets and force workers to muster more and more courage to ask their bosses for a raise.
Employers can also do their part to address the aversion to talking about numbers. Talking about wages in the workplace doesn’t have to be taboo. While individual salary amounts can be kept confidential, employers can create a culture of transparency by publishing certain information, such as median salary. Especially in larger firms of, say, more than 100 employees, disclosing the median amount would not embarrass people, but it would still encourage more openness about money matters. Showing an average of, say, the top five individual salaries in a company or department can give staff an idea of scale.
What can you do yourself on National Arithmetic Day? On an individual basis, you can take an ITV on your numerical skills with the arithmetic challenge. Parents could help their children become world record holders too!
Donate to the Financial Education and Inclusion Campaign here
You can join me and my fellow numeracy ambassador and Strictly come to dance star Katya Jones for an official Guinness World Record attempt. We’re inviting schools and families to take part in the UK’s largest live numbers list. We will recite multiplication tables, specifically the “fives” to celebrate the fifth birthday of National Arithmetic Day, May 18, via a live stream link on the National Arithmetic website.
The inability to do math should not be a badge of honor. We should foster a culture where adults feel comfortable trying to improve their numeracy skills. As much as we think of driving, dancing, or baking as skills we can improve, arithmetic should be exactly that. It is not something that we can innately do or not do, but rather a skill that can be developed.
Now more than ever, we need to make the UK a more numbered nation that is open and trusting when discussing the numbers of money and personal finance. And that starts now, making it good to talk about numbers.
Bobby Seagull is a math teacher, television host, and author of “The Magic of Numbers That Changes Lives.” Twitter: @Bobby_Seagull; Instagram: @Bobby_Seagull
Try three multiple choice everyday math questions. Feel free to figure it out on paper or use a calculator; This is not a mental arithmetic test.
Milly’s breakfast contains 460 calories of energy. What percentage is this of your target daily intake of 2,000 calories?
A flat-screen TV costs £799 including 20 per cent VAT. How much of the purchase price is VAT?
None of those
If a t-shirt was £13.50 after a 10% reduction, what was the original price?
Answers: 23%; None of those; £15