Thursday, March 25, 1999 Published at 13:10 GMT
England's 'staggering' adult illiteracy
Training - for those brave enough to seek it - is 'patchy'
One fifth of adults in England have severe problems with basic literacy and numeracy, according to an official report which calls for a "national crusade" to tackle the problem.
It reviews evidence that adults in England have poorer literacy and numeracy skills than those in any other European country apart from Poland and Ireland.
It calculates that one in three adults cannot work out the area of a room, while one in five would be unable to find a plumber in the Yellow Pages telephone directory.
"The fact that as many as seven million adults in England have more or less severe problems with literacy and numeracy is staggering, and indeed shocking in this rich country," he said.
"It is sad reflection on decades of poor schooling and past government policies."
The report says the consequences of this are "devastating for society, for the economy and above all for the individuals concerned". It also criticises "the patchy, almost random" provision of help for those who need it.
It recommends a national strategy to provide targeted study schemes involving the government, employers and colleges.
Adult learning drive
The report follows an announcement last year that the government is to give £2.3m to 64 adult education projects in England.
Many of the projects aim to improve adults' basic literacy and numeracy skills, and as a consequence make them more employable.
They are the first beneficiaries of the Adult and Community Learning Fund, launched last August, which will see a total of £15m being spent over the next three years.
"Basic skills education has a key place in the initiatives we have already launched. We are fortunate that awareness is growing about the scale and nature of the problem.
"Many people will have seen features in soaps like EastEnders and Brookside, where a literacy story line was developed - in no small part due to the efforts of the Basic Skills Agency and broadcasting companies.
Mr Blunkett said he was asking the Education and Employment Minister, Tessa Blackstone, to lead a small group to draw up such a strategy.