On October 8, I attended the ‘Economic Literacy for Everyone Summit’ which took place at the Chartered Accountants’ Hall. Speakers included charity organisations, participants of courses and financial experts. The summit asked and answered some key questions, such as: why is learning about economics important for the average person? And how can we get both adults and children involved in discussions?

‘Economics is the study of man’s action in the ordinary business of life. It inquires how he gets his income and how he uses it’.

This is a quote by Alfred Marshall who wrote Principles of Economics (1890). Though his arguments have been forgotten for many years, the above words still hold truth. Joe Earle, who is now Chief Executive of Economy (ecnmy.org) co-founded the Post-Crash Society at the University of Manchester. Earle and fellow members felt that their degrees in economics did not teach them about how the changing nature of the economy has a direct impact on real people. He used this experience in his current role at Economy, which researched along with YouGov what people think when they are asked about economics.

The respondents revealed quite alarming answers. For example, one individual stated that:

‘I imagine (the economy) is like one big circle, but I don’t know what’s in that circle’.

It was also found that only 12 per cent of the general public feel politicians and the media talk about economics in a way that is accessible and easy to understand. Ecnmy.org also got children to draw what they think someone who works for the economy looks like. Many of them drew a stereotypical man in a suit, holding a briefcase. It is the aim of charities and organizations like ecnmy.org to equip everyone, from all age groups, with better understanding of what the economy is and how it works.

Economic Literacy Summit: Only 12% of people understand economic talk

Ruth Ibegbuna used to be a teacher in Bradford but is now founder of RECLAIM, a programme that supports the working-class youth. She spoke about how children are segregated between those that can understand and those that cannot. School programmes such as ‘Gifted and Talented’ allow ‘clever’ kids to discuss things like the economy but leave others behind. This can have a great impact later in life when children start to make poor decisions and get into debt, primarily because they don’t know enough about such things as interest rates.

Liz Moorse from the Association for Citizenship Teaching further reiterates the point. She argues that teachers can deliver economic literacy to young people through relatable issues. One example is when she heard about a school in the Midlands where the students created their own campaign to get rid of car park charges at their local hospital. The students discovered it is the hospital’s NHS Trust they should be contacting and not the government. This is just one case where young people can learn through direct experience how money in the economy is spent.

It is important to understand that economic literacy is something that can be taught to anyone. Ecnmy.org defines this literacy as knowing how the world works and how economic institutions and forces play a role in our lives.

I was curious to know why people attended the event and what things stood out for them. Russell Howell from Revolution Hive, an organization helping young people to learn new skills through various enrichment programmes, explained why he thinks economic literacy is key:

‘Economic literacy can prepare people for the challenges they face’.

This thought directly relates to what Steve Frampton, President of the Associations of Colleges, said. He acknowledged that unless economic literacy is made widely available people will not learn. Howell gave three key features of the economy that need to be understood: Consumer, Civic and Collective.

Consumer entails the buying of goods. Civic means being able to contribute to society. While collective means using multiple people’s money, such as through paying council tax. But individuals will not able to navigate these features without knowledge. A recent poll by YouGov with ecnmy found that people who did not vote in the EU referendum had 10 per cent less confidence in understanding economics than those that did, hence the importance of fostering economic literacy through education.

Sharon Farley was another individual I interviewed at the event:

‘We need an economically literate society from the flash culture telling us that money equals success, as this is not a good message to send to our children’.

Economic literacy is not something to be looked down upon or ignored, and people should not be embarrassed if they don’t know the basics. Everyone has a right to be able to understand how the economy they live in affects their everyday lives. Their health, their choices, their trust in politicians, their financial stability, and their overall feeling of being a part of a wider conversation.

Economic Literacy Summit: Only 12% of people understand economic talk

On that note, according to ‘Dave’ from Doncaster; it is better to ask politicians how they feel about the economy  than what they think about ‘the immigrant problem’.

I’m inclined to agree.

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