Half of homeless population struggling to read and write
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Education and also in Communities, Housing
Seven-year-olds' standards slip in maths
Homeless people lack the basic literacy skills needed for everyday life, shocking new research has revealed.
The charity St Mungo’s Broadway conducted the largest ever recorded survey of homeless people’s literacy and numeracy skills by direct assessment - and found that 51% wouldn’t achieve GCSE grade D-G.
This figure compares with one in six (15%) of the general population who struggle to read.
The report also reveals challenges for further education (FE) colleges. College principals who were interviewed recognised the barriers to learning faced by homeless people but, as funding is reliant on attendance and qualifications, they are unable to take the financial risk and offer the kind of flexible courses which work for people who are homeless.
St Mungo’s Broadway chief executive, Howard Sinclair, along with the charity’s clients, are presenting the report, 'Reading Counts: Why English and maths skills matter in tackling homelessness', to MPs today along with a petition signed by close to 3,000 people urging Skills Minister Matthew Hancock to ensure that basic skills training is well funded, suitable and accessible to all homeless people.
MR Sinclair said: “From not learning how to read and write at school to being held back by the adult learning system, many people who are homeless face terrible hurdles when it comes to basic skills.
“Poor literacy and numeracy impacts across work, health, keeping a home and positive relationships. Our clients need a second, sometimes a third chance to build their future. That’s why we, and our supporters, are asking the Government to deliver on their promise to prioritise training opportunities for homeless people.”
St Mungo’s Broadway assessed 139 people and held 30 in-depth interviews with clients. They found that:
• One in two lack the basic English skills needed for everyday life.
• 55% were found to lack basic maths skills.
• Many had a poor experience of school, often connected to unstable or traumatic childhoods.
• Clients who lack basic English and maths skills make less progress in addressing physical and mental health issues.
• A 2013 survey of 1,595 St Mungo’s clients found that only 6% were in paid work. Poor English and maths skills partly explain this extremely low rate of employment.
• Mainstream FE courses also generally have rigid attendance requirements, are delivered at a set pace and have relatively large class sizes. These features often make it hard for people with unstable housing and health issues to complete these courses.
One client who was interviewed for the report has experienced homelessness on and off for 13 years. Tracy, who was fostered as a child, always felt like she was falling behind in school. She said: “I was told I was stupid and chaotic which I then believed. I didn’t spend much time in school so didn’t improve my literacy. I had no self-esteem or confidence and am only starting to build on this now.”
Poor literacy led to Tracy losing her home in the 90s because she failed to fill in her housing benefit form.
“I didn’t know what it was so I put it in a drawer. I didn’t know whether there was support or where to find support to help me.”
Another client interviewed said: “If I do miss dates [on a St Mungo’s Broadway skills course] we can go back over it. But if I’m on a 12-week course somewhere else and miss units and fall behind then I’m in trouble. And it would have been another failed attempt.”
David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), who wrote the foreword for the report, said: “English and maths skills are fundamental for people to be active citizens in our society. They are the bedrock upon which we are all able to find and sustain work, learn new skills, participate in our democracy, support our families and feel part of the community we live in.
“NIACE has been working with St Mungo’s Broadway to develop new ways to encourage homeless adults into informal learning using hooks such as financial capability and online banking but we need greater flexibility in funding mechanisms for FE providers to support those with the greatest needs.”