Life for people with poor basic skills gets worse as they get older, a study of 37-year-olds has shown.
The report, commissioned by the Basic Skills Agency, painted a sad picture of adults who had left school with few or no qualifications, resulting in long spells of unemployment, poverty and ill-health.
Alan Wells, director of the agency, said the survey showed a widening gap between skilled and unskilled workers. "It emphasises the dangers we face of developing an underclass of excluded people." He welcomed the Government's commitment to basic skills in schools and Welfare to Work. "I hope it will be a fresh start to an inclusive society."
The research, carried out by a team from City University, London, was based on a sample from the National Child Development Study which has followed the progress of children born in one week in 1958. Researchers, surveying the sample two years ago, found little improvement in performance since the sample was surveyed at the age of 21.
John Bynner and Samantha Parsons found that nearly a fifth of the 1,700 adults surveyed had low literacy levels - a third of these had difficulty in reading aloud from a child's book - and almost a quarter had problems with sums. A fifth found it hard to obtain information from notices or forms. But only 18 per cent had been on a course to improve their reading and 16 per cent for numeracy courses.
"Overall, the picture that emerges from the survey is of the vicious circle of disadvantage and marginalisation associated with basic skills problems, " the authors comment.
They also found that only one in five women with poor basic skills and one in 10 of the lowly qualified men had been involved in charity work or in parent-teacher associations or had voted, compared with half of women with good basic skills and a third of men.
More than a third of women with very low literacy reported symptoms of poor health and depression compared with 7 per cent of good readers.
It Doesn't Get Any Better, summary, free from BSA, Commonwealth House, 1-19 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1NU. Full report, Pounds 6.50, plus pp.