Some years ago I chaired a follow up review about numeracy skills amongst people of all ages in the UK. It was deeply concerning how much we had failed to enable people to be confident about handling numbers and I fear not much has changed since.
The Financial Inclusion Commission report in 2015 made similar findings with too many people not being confident about managing their finances and being without the support and advice to help with this. A key recommendation was for financial education for all from school to retirement and beyond.
In other countries such as New Zealand financial education has long been part of the school curriculum at all ages. It is time that across the UK we learnt from this. This year Welsh Government has set out to strengthen how this is built into the curriculum all through schooling in their impressive Financial Inclusion Strategy for Wales. They also plan to help make it possible to continue to develop financial capability throughout life for everyone.
The current National Curriculum in England has a brief episode of financial education. This is totally insufficient. In any case it is not a legal requirement for all schools such as Academies which are exempt. There are great examples of primary schools that support parents to improve their own financial capability at the same time as helping learning for their children. Some of this involves savings schemes supported by credit unions. We need more initiatives like this.
At the same time we need to ensure everyone has access to objective and understandable advice on credit, debt, savings, insurance and pensions provided in a way that is accessible to them. This is particularly needed at those crucial life stages and ‘trigger events’ such as first employment, marriage, bereavement, redundancy and retirement. Too many people also have very limited financial resilience to get through any financial shocks and so have even greater need for advice and support.
We need to use a wide range of approaches to make this work including new digital means of informing and educating. It is time we got this right for everyone from the earliest years and throughout life.
Dame Mary Marsh was Founding Director of the Clore Social Leadership Programme which she created in 2008 for aspiring social sector leaders. Previously she was chief executive of NSPCC and head teacher of two comprehensive schools. She is currently a non-executive director of HSBC Bank plc and a member of the Governing Body at London Business School. She was recently appointed as Chair of The Trustee Board at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and a Director of the Board of the LSO (London Symphony Orchestra).