Two Thirds Of UK Adults Fail Basic Literacy Test

67.97% of the UK adult population has below average basic literacy skills, a statistic that has serious implications for the long term prospects of the UK economy, according to a nationwide survey undertaken to coincide with the launch of Better Writing: Better Business, an interactive writing skills programme designed for use in the workplace to quickly teach staff about the correct use of the language.

These results support Skills for Life findings which estimate that 5.2 million adults in the UK are at, or below, the literacy standard expected of an 11 year old*. If these adults were to sit a GCSE English exam, they would fail. According to a survey by Ernst and Young, the growing problem of lack of basic skills in the workplace is costing the UK economy an estimated £10 billion each year in lost contracts and incorrect invoices**.

The Basic Writing Skills survey, undertaken by educational software developer Basic Writing Skills, also discovered that women have higher average literacy levels than men, scoring an average of 15% higher than their male counterparts in the test.

The reasons for declining UK writing skill levels are arguably attributable to two factors: first, people not knowing that there is a difference between informal and formal language, ie how one speaks to friends is different from how one should prepare documents; and second, people not understanding the rules for written English, and therefore writing in ways that are personal to them but not necessarily comprehensible to others.

Heather Ker, creator of Better Writing: Better Business, said: "There has long been a belief that because we speak English, we can write it. The teaching of grammar and punctuation has therefore been largely neglected for about 30 years and we are seeing the results of that now. Ignoring basic rules would not happen in any other subject. We wouldn't say, 'You can bang a nail in with a hammer - go and build a house.' If you want to write well, there are rules to be learnt here too. They aren't complex, and once you have them life improves in many ways.

"The decline in literacy has not been helped by two aspects of modern society - increasing reliance on 'Spell Check' tools within word processing programmes where, for the most part, any corrections are automatically made or highlighted and brought to the user's attention. Moreover, 'txt' language on mobile phones encourages personal interpretative spelling - which is inconsistent as well as incorrect - to save space and time. This kind of writing has increasingly been adopted by many for informal emails.

"Dwindling literacy levels can have a direct effect on the corporate bottom line. The written word is today the most common form of business contact, be it email, letter or report, all of which are a direct representation of the author and the author's organisation. Spelling or punctuation errors convey that the writer, and the company they represent, are careless and lack attention to detail. Such a damaging evaluation can result in a loss of business, as the survey by Ernst and Young has shown.