Manchester’s literacy challenge is inequality at play


Manchester’s literacy challenge is inequality at play

If you aren’t aware of the literacy challenge in England, you might be surprised to know England has the worst literacy rate compared to other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In fact, we’re the only country in the OECD where the literacy skills of young people are worse than the generation before, with basic English skills declining. 

To give a more specific example, Manchester has some of the worst literacy rates in England. One in eleven children (9%) don’t have a single book of their own at home and are missing out on the benefits of reading. While many look for someone to blame for these startling statistics, the underlying cause of the falling literacy rates are clear.

Inequality and literacy

Inequality seems to be an underlying driver in the extreme disparity in literacy rates across the UK. Disadvantaged children in Manchester can start school 19 months behind their most advantaged peers in language development. In 2018, 40% of poorer children in Manchester didn’t reach the expected standard in reading at age 11 while 61% did not achieve good grades in GCSE English and maths. 

It’s clear from an early age, those coming from more privileged backgrounds are off to a head start. The reading challenge in Manchester, and the rest of the UK, is a symptom of an even bigger problem the UK has: inequality. The bad news is it’s growing.

Growing inequality

Income inequality increased in 2018 from 31.4% to 32.5% based on the Gini coefficient. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the richest 1% of the population shared a total household disposable income of 7.1% in 2018. This is nothing compared to global statistics of inequality, where the richest 1% own 45% of the world’s wealth, but it reflects the global trend of rising inequality. 

According to, in 2009, the combined wealth of the world’s richest 380 people equalled the wealth of the bottom 50% of the population. By 2017, just 42 billionaires had the same amount of money as the bottom 50% of the global population (around 3.75 billion people). 

Tackling Manchester’s literacy challenge

Inequality plays a significant role in determining which children get off to a good start in school. The most disadvantaged children often lag behind from the very beginning and don’t catch up to their more advantaged peers. In 2018, one in four children left primary school unable to read properly. This number rose to two in five (40%) among the most disadvantaged. Disadvantaged children do worse than their peers at every point throughout their education. 

If we want to tackle declining literacy rates in Manchester’s children, we need to tackle the underlying causes, which includes inequality. It can limit a child’s opportunities to get a quality education, follow their interests, and contribute to the economic and cultural life of our nation as an adult. There is a cycle at play, where children with low literacy skills become parents who can't support their children’s learning, who then go on to have poor literacy skills. 

We need to even the playing field for children entering school and support all children throughout their education, particularly those who are at a higher risk of leaving school with poor literacy skills. Government investment and policy aren’t reaching the most disadvantaged areas in Manchester. We need other solutions to this problem. 

If you want to find out how you can help change lives through reading, get in touch with Alia Coster of Coster Content. She and her staff are true believers in the importance of literacy in a child’s life. If you want to work with a like-minded company, just call 0161 413 8418. 

Alia CosterComment