Research by the Money Advice Service (MAS) appears to have demonstrated a link between consumers’ numeracy skills and levels of confidence, and their ability to manage their financial affairs.


The survey suggests 18.5 million people lack confidence or skills to manage their money in some way – 7.5 million say they lack the confidence or skills, and a further 11 million believe they can manage, but have been classified by the survey as ‘over-confident’ when it comes to money.


Around 19.7 million people (48% of the working age population in the UK) are classed as ‘self-assured’, meaning they have both the skills and the confidence required to handle their financial affairs.

 The study, entitled Numeracy and Financial Capability: Exploring the Links, suggests 25–34-year-olds are the most over-confident age group when it comes to using numbers, however this age group is also the most over-indebted.

Hence there are two distinct groups of people who could struggle to manage their finances, and who could end up in debt as a result. These are those who think they know more about money than they actually do, and those who actually do have the skills they need, but who lack the necessary confidence.

The MAS is therefore calling, not only for efforts to be made to tackle low levels of numeracy, but also for work to be carried out focused on overcoming issues related to confidence. It wants money guidance, pensions guidance and debt advice agencies to review their procedures so that they can identify consumers who exhibit either over-confidence or low confidence.

The press release regarding the study also says that the MAS is working alongside the Education Endowment Fund and Young Enterprise in secondary schools and colleges in England, with a view to launching the teaching of mathematics in a financial context by 2019.

The study also shows that:

  • 17 million people (approximately 40% of the working age population) have less than £100 in savings. These individuals are therefore at considerable risk were they to suffer a financial shock such as redundancy, long-term illness or another type of financial emergency. In this survey, it was found that the ‘over-confident’ people were more likely to have savings than those lacking confidence
  • Almost 25% of adults routinely use a credit card, or various forms of high-cost short-term credit, to manage their day-to-day expenses
  • More than 8 million people frequently struggle to pay their bills and credit commitments, or feel unduly burdened by their debt levels

For the purposes of the study, the MAS defined numeracy as:

“Having the confidence and competence to use numbers and data in everyday situations to make good decisions, including financial ones.”

David Haigh, Director of Financial Capability at the MAS said:

“Numeracy is more than the ability to use numbers or gain a maths qualification. It is about having the confidence and competence to use numbers and data in everyday situations to make good financial decisions. Being financially capable gives people the power to make the most of their money and improve their lives – and without such capability it means that many adults in the UK are just not in control of their finances. This research has deepened our level of understanding and we now need to respond collectively and strategically to these findings and issues”.

The information shown in this article was correct at the time of publication. Articles are not routinely reviewed and as such are not updated. Please be aware the facts, circumstances or legal position may change after publication of the article.