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Volume 202: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the extent of adult illiteracy in the United Kingdom; what definition he uses of illiteracy; and if he will make a statement.

There are very few adults in the United Kingdom who cannot read or write at all, but there are substantial numbers who cannot cope with the demands of everyday life. They cannot, for example, fill in forms, check pay-slips or give the correct change. Such people are often described as being "functionally illiterate".The adult literacy and basic skills unit—ALBSU—which advises the Government, estimates that 5.5 million people in England and Wales have some difficulty with reading, writing, spelling and basic mathematics. That cannot be a precise figure, but there is no doubt that there are still many people requiring help.The Government give high priority to basic skills—that is literacy and numeracy—education for adults. Local education authorities are currently the main providers of this, but central government also gives support, to ALBSU, and through a number of central initiatives. Grants to ALBSU have increased more than six-fold over the past decade, to over £3 million in 1991–92.The Further and Higher Education Bill, which is currently before Parliament, will strengthen the position of basic skills. The further education funding councils will be under a specific duty to secure adequate provision of basic skills education for adults.Such provisions should make the best use of whatever facilities and expertise are available and should be readily accessible to local communities.