Are You Financially Illiterate



Did you know that there are more than 8 million adults in Northern Ireland and England with the math skills of a ten year old? (Source: BBC) Take a moment to reflect on that, and then consider that in a survey of the top 24 nations in the world, England came in 21st, just a few stumbling idiot steps ahead of America, who was at the bottom, in 24th place. While it is always nice to edge out the Yanks, we did so at the expense of coming in way behind nations most of us wouldn’t dream of as being more financially literate than England. For example:

Estonia came in 7th place.
Czech Republic took 9th.
Slovak Republic followed up in 10th place.
Poland was in 15th place.

These are all former Soviet Bloc countries, that were crushed under the smothering bureaucracy communism forced on them by the former Soviet Union. For more than 20 years, they’ve been struggling to rebuild their nations and recover their identity. Every one of them has endured hardships most of us in the UK can’t imagine, such as not having regular power, poor access to internet resources, and second world medical facilities. Despite this they all significantly outperformed England. In searching for an acceptable excuse to write in defense of England, there just isn’t one.

We’ve gotten fat on our wealth, and lazy as a result.

Where we were once a world leader, poor policies and petty bickering among our MPs has left our financial literacy levels a shambles. Our brightest minds are snuffed out at an early age, learning how to consume, rather than conserve. We eat ourselves into rampant obesity, again coming in just a few places from America, but still considerably heavier than our former Soviet Bloc partner nations. In fact, according to statistics, a full 25% of England doesn’t even care enough about how fat they’ve become to change it. Based on our financial literacy levels, they also don’t care about their money.

If these people cared, they would do something, but they don’t. Everyone has an excuse, and no one wants to accept that fact that they are the reason for the problem. Policy and Parliament, who we trusted to guide us and our youths to building a better UK have let us down, and while it would be nice to write about what a good job any of it has really done for England, that would be a lie.

Granted, this is the first year any real financial literacy will be taught in UK schools, but that means it will be 20 years or more before that literacy hits our streets. (Source: The Guardian) What happens in the interim? Much like the banking crisis that devastated world economies, it could be too little too late. Certainly it’s a great stride forward, but what’s going to happen over the next 20 years? Do we continue to slide down in global rankings, year after year? Are we following in America’s footsteps, and trying to top the financial illiteracy and obesity charts? Hopefully not.

The UK is too great a nation to let that happen.

Even though we are admittedly rather financially illiterate and obese at the moment, we can change it. If our MPs aren’t going to do anything about it, and large as some of them are, one imagines it’s not high on their list of priorities, then we need to do something about it.

First, we need to start educating ourselves about finance, before we get a credit card, or any form of credit. Too many people in the UK treat credit cards like Americans treat guns. They just run out, grab one because they can, and then start collecting them. No one requires American gun owners or UK credit card owners to understand or know how to use these devices. Instead, they are just turned loose, free to use them as they will, and hopefully not hurt themselves or anyone else along the way.

Second, MPs need to really be held accountable. Not in the sense of sacking one out of twenty, or drawing down party lines, but rather, financially accountable. That means hitting them in their pocket. If someone wants to be an MP, then they need to be paid based on performance. They should not be paid for showing up at work and sipping tea between air conditioned meetings, while the rest of us swelter because the grid is overloaded and outdated, and there’s no money to fix it.

Third, we need to hold those we love accountable as well, because one bad family finance decision can drag the whole bunch down. Make sure you’re working together to build credit, but track it too. Don’t just assume someone else is paying attention. By treating financial matters like the potentially dangerous tools they are, we can start to fix our broken system.

In other words, the people of the UK have sat by too long and let others dictate what’s turned out to be the worst possible policies for us. First we lost our place as the holder of the world’s reserve currency, and then we ran right into the banking and finance crisis, cheering our new purchases and homes the whole way.

It’s time people start holding themselves and those around them accountable, and that starts with every one of us, working to make financially sound decisions. Maybe one day our MPs will catch up.

Paul graduated in 2001 with a degree in Finance. Since then he has gone on to work for several of the UK's most well-known financial institutions.

An avid blogger and a huge football fan, Paul is here to guide you through the ins and outs of personal finance and perhaps save you some money in the process!

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