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Thursday, 29 June, 2000, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
One in five UK adults 'illiterate'
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Experts fear the UK's illiteracy rate will worsen
At least seven million adults in the UK are functionally illiterate, according to an annual United Nations (UN) survey.

Its findings have prompted experts to warn that the problem will get worse unless the government intervenes.


It is going to get worse for people who are functionally illiterate

Employment Policy Institute
The independent think tank Employment Policy Institute said illiteracy rates would rise in tandem with the increasing availability of low-skilled jobs.

The same UN survey also put the UK in the top 10 of its global survey about the quality of life, up four places from its 1998 position.

Andy Westwood, a spokesman for the Employment Policy Institute, said of the UK's illiteracy: "It is going to get worse for people who are functionally illiterate because the types of entry requirements in low skilled jobs are going to increase.

"There are government interventions that are up-skilling the present work force and the future work force. The question is are those interventions going to go at the same speed as the types of opportunity available within the labour market?

Economic links underlined

"I suspect that they will go around the same speed because I don't think the economy and labour market are proceeding as quickly as new economy fans would suggest."

His group believes the government should intervene to help improve UK reading rates.

British people finished two places above France in the annual UN survey and four above Germany, with Canada topping the list for the seventh consecutive year.

The UN's Human Development Index takes account of income, education, life expectancy and health care when judging its 'quality of life' index.

The report found that the US had the highest level of "human poverty" - relating to life expectancy, illiteracy and unemployment - among industrialised nations, followed closely by the UK and the Irish Republic.

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See also:

29 Jun 00 | Americas
UN highlights world wealth divide
22 May 00 | Education
Basic skills for adult learners
03 Apr 00 | Education
Boost for basic skills
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