Modelling Essential Skills Needs Across England


Essential skills, including literacy and numeracy, are increasingly crucial for life, work and economic growth. However, the number of adults improving these skills in England has reduced by more than 60% over the past decade as Government investment in skills is set to be £1 billion less in 2025 compared to 2010. As a result, on current trends, it would take over 20 years for every adult to get the help they need. 

L&W has conducted an England-wide modelling exercise of adults aged 16 to 64, identifying disparities in essential skills levels within local areas which far exceed those between local and combined authorities across the country. Pockets of high need exist in every region, with areas of lower overall need masking pockets of high need, and the reverse:

  • London has the third lowest percentage of people with essential skills needs among the combined authorities; it is also home to 10 of the 20 wards with the highest essential skills needs.
  • Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which has the third highest percentage of essential skills needs amongst the combined authorities, includes 6 of the 20 wards in England with the lowest percentage of essential skills needs nationally. 

Similarly, while just two percentage points separate essential skills needs between Tees Valley (25%) and the West of England (23%), the regions with the highest and lowest needs in England, a gap of 16 percentage points separates York (23%) from its Heslington ward (39%).  

Nine million adults in England lack essential literacy or numeracy skills and will continue to lose out without increased and targeted investment. We argue the Government should aim for 90% of adults to have the essential skills they need for life and work by 2035, up from 75% today, with increased investment and local targeting of support.

Interactive Essential Skills Map

L&W’s essential skills modelling estimates indicative numbers of 16–64-year-olds with low literacy or numeracy in local areas.