Wirral MP tables amendment to Levelling Up Bill to address crisis in adult literacy

MPs in Parliament have voted on an amendment that Wirral West MP Margaret Greenwood brought forward to the government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.  

The amendment would have required the government to include reducing geographical disparities in adult literacy as one of their levelling-up missions. Additionally, it would have required them to regularly review levels of adult literacy in the UK, to publish the findings of those reviews and to set out a strategy to improve levels of adult literacy and eradicate illiteracy in the UK.  

The amendment – which was signed by fellow Wirral MPs Mick Whitley and Angela Eagle – attracted wide support across parliament, but was ultimately voted down by the government and defeated by 285 votes to 155.  

During the debate, which is one of a series of debates taking part on different aspects of the bill, Margaret Greenwood, who is a former adult education tutor and school teacher, said that poor literacy skills and illiteracy “are a form of deprivation that can lead to isolation and poverty and can leave people vulnerable to exploitation.” She added that they “also leave people unable to fulfil their potential in other ways, such as navigating opportunities for travel, training, housing, leisure or work.”  

The most recent national survey of adult basic skills in England was the 2011 Skills for Life survey, commissioned by the previous Labour government before the 2010 general election.  

In that survey, 14.9% of the adult population in England were deemed to be functionally illiterate. The survey also found significant geographical disparities in levels of adult literacy – 28% of adults in London were deemed to be functionally illiterate, compared to 15% in the North West and 9% in the South East and South West.  

More recent analysis by the National Literacy Trust suggests that there are currently 7.1 million adults in England – one in six – who are functionally illiterate, meaning that they can understand accurately and independently short, straightforward text on familiar topics, and obtain information from everyday sources, but reading information from unfamiliar sources or topics could cause problems.  

In Scotland, one in four adults experiences challenges because of a lack of literacy skills; in Northern Ireland, one in five adults has poor literacy skills and in Wales, one in eight adults lacks basic literacy skills.  

Margaret Greenwood said that it is “shameful” that there has been no follow-up by the government to the 2011 Skills for Life survey.  

Speaking after the debate, Margaret Greenwood MP said, “I was pleased that my amendment was selected for a vote in the House of Commons, and I am very grateful to all the MPs who supported it.   

“However, I am extremely disappointed that the government decided to vote against it.  

“We were debating the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and I do not believe that the government can truly say that they are levelling up the UK without a focused and well-resourced response to the crisis in adult literacy.  

“This is a matter of real urgency if we are to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential and if we are to address the economic challenges that our country faces.   

“The Confederation of British Industry says that over 90% of the workforce will need to retrain by 2030. Clearly, those who struggle to read and write must be a priority for the government if we are to improve productivity and address inequality.   

“Recently, the Chief Executive of the Learning and Work Institute, Stephen Evans, said that ‘we need to level up lifelong learning’ and that ‘we’re limiting people’s opportunities based on who they are and where they’re from. We’ve got to change that.’  

“I fully agree with that and the government really should be taking note.  

“It makes absolutely no sense for the government to continue ignoring the crisis in adult literacy. 

“I will continue to campaign on this very important issue.” 

You can watch Margaret Greenwood MP’s contribution to the debate here – https://tinyurl.com/3hvwz8jc  – and you can read her speech in full via this link: https://tinyurl.com/2s37tfuy   

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