86% of English constituencies have entrenched problems with literacy

Data analysis by Experian and The National Literacy Trust reveals local depths of England’s literacy crisis. Low literacy levels aren’t limited to regions with low income, employment and social deprivation

Children’s futures will be put in jeopardy if action isn’t taken at a local level to tackle England’s deep-rooted literacy crisis. That’s the message coming from a comprehensive new study by the National Literacy Trust and Experian, which reveals that the vast majority of constituencies in England (86%) contain at least one ward with serious literacy issues [1].

Experian analysed data about the social factors most closely associated with low literacy, to create a literacy vulnerability score for every single electoral ward and parliamentary constituency in England.

By harnessing the power of data and analytics, this brand new measure provides a deeper understanding about a long-standing challenge for society, identifying the areas with the most acute literacy problems and pinpointing where the greatest level of support is required. 

The investigation found that:

  • The constituency with the greatest literacy problems is Middlesbrough, followed by Barking, Hackney South and Shoreditch, Liverpool (Walton) and Sheffield (Brightside and Hillsborough). 
  • Literacy issues are intensely localised. Although there are clear hot spots, such as areas in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber and the North West, the analysis reveals that low literacy levels aren’t restricted to regions with low income, employment and social deprivation. In England, 458 constituencies contain at least one ward with greatest literacy need, which leaves just 75 constituencies with no serious literacy issues.
  • The areas that struggle the most.  Inner cities and their surrounding areas dominate the list of locations with a need for the greatest literacy support. All 50 places suffering the most come from cities, towns or districts surrounding urban areas. From this list, six constituencies are situated by the coast, including Birkenhead, Hartlepool and Grimsby.

Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust, said:  “For 20 years, the government has addressed England’s widening literacy gap through national strategies. We now know that a new, targeted approach is needed as our work with Experian reveals the country’s literacy challenge to be intensely local. Strong local leadership and partnerships are vital to tackling this and MPs are ideally-placed to drive effective local solutions.

“We know that local strategies work – we set up a National Literacy Trust Hub in Middlesbrough in 2013, which has already had a vital impact on the number of children reaching a good level of development at age five, and has significantly closed the attainment gap with the national average.”  [2].

Richard Jenkings, Lead Analytics Consultant at Experian, said:  “It doesn’t come as a surprise that levels of literacy are strongly related to households and the neighbourhood in which people live, with urban areas facing the biggest challenges.  There is a clear correlation between literacy and income, levels of education, long-term unemployment rates, levels of motivation and depression, as well as with intergenerational needs and growing up in a family with no work culture.”

 “However, what shocked me the most in the analysis was just how far reaching the problem of low literacy is in England – it’s on all of our doorsteps, regardless of location. Most regions have at least one area with severe literacy problems. We hope that by making sense of all this data, we have helped lay the foundations for others to transform lives and local communities for the better.”

The new literacy vulnerability score is based on an in-depth analysis of data from Experian’s socio-demographic classification system, Mosaic, and the 2011 Census on the social factors most closely associated with low literacy, including levels of education, income and unemployment. [3]

MPs were given an information pack containing their constituency’s literacy vulnerability score and analysis of the local factors behind it at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy on Monday 6 February. Every MP in the country has access to a report to help them better understand and respond to the specific literacy challenges in their constituency.

The National Literacy Trust has developed a robust local model to address intergenerational low literacy levels in communities across the UK [4]. Currently working in Middlesbrough, Bradford, Peterborough, Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent, the charity takes the best literacy interventions to these communities, creates partnerships between schools, businesses, the voluntary sector and health and local services and mobilises MPs and local leaders to champion literacy in their community.

Literacy vulnerability scores and rankings for every parliamentary constituency in England are available here: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0003/7673/Constituency_table_-_by_rank_-_FINAL.pdf 



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Notes to editors

[1] Analysis by the National Literacy Trust and Experian (2017). 86% of constituencies (468 out of 533) contain at least one ward in the three deciles of greatest need.

[2] In 2015, more children in Middlesbrough achieved a Good Level of Development at the end of the EYFS, closing the gap with the national average from 22.6 percentage points in 2013 to 6.27 percentage points.

[3] The literacy vulnerability score is based on the social mix of the resident population in each English electoral ward and parliamentary constituency. The measure combines metrics from the 2011 Census and Experian’s socio-demographic classification system, Mosaic (see below), which are closely associated with literacy need.

[4] National Literacy Trust ‘Literacy Hubs’: www.literacytrust.org.uk/communities/literacy_hubs 

The metrics taken from the 2011 Census were: % of long term unemployed; % of households where no one has ever worked; and % of people with no formal qualifications. Experian’s Mosaic data was then used to identify the places with the highest percentage of people in the most deprived groups (Mosaic Groups: I - Family Basics; J - Transient Renters; and K - Municipal Challenge).

Each variable was ranked (with the areas of greatest need generating the lowest ranking) and then added together to give a total score. From this, we created a national rank for each English parliamentary constituency and English electoral ward.  

Mosaic is Experian’s system for classification of UK households. It is one of a number of commercially available geo-demographic segmentation systems, applying the principles of geo-demographic to consumer household and individual data collated from a number of governmental and commercial sources. 

About the National Literacy Trust

We are a national charity dedicated to raising literacy levels in the UK. Our research and analysis make us the leading authority on literacy. We run projects in the poorest communities, campaign to make literacy a priority for politicians and parents, and support schools.

Visit www.literacytrust.org.uk to find out more, donate or sign up for our free email newsletter. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The National Literacy Trust is a registered charity no. 1116260 and a company limited by guarantee no. 5836486 registered in England and Wales and a registered charity in Scotland no. SC042944.  Registered address: 68 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1RL.

About Experian

Experian is the world’s leading global information services company. During life’s big moments – from buying a home or a car, to sending a child to college, to growing a business by connecting with new customers – we empower consumers and our clients to manage their data with confidence. We help individuals to take financial control and access financial services, businesses to make smarter decisions and thrive, lenders to lend more responsibly, and organisations to prevent identity fraud and crime. 

We have 17,000 people operating across 37 countries and every day we’re investing in new technologies, talented people and innovation to help all our clients maximise every opportunity.  We are listed on the London Stock Exchange (EXPN) and are a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. Learn more at www.experianplc.com or visit our global content hub at our global news blog for the latest news and insights from the company.  

Experian has run a financial education programme in the UK since the mid-1990s and develops a variety of resources to help people of all ages get to grips with issues around money, credit and credit checking. Since 2013, Experian has partnered with the charity Young Enterprise to transform primary schools around the country into national Centres of Excellence for financial education, helping more than 17,000 pupils, parents and teachers improve their money skills.  Existing teaching resources include a free interactive resource for primary school pupils and www.valuesmoneyandme.co.uk.