Is Maths a barrier to participation in society?

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Does this question sound peculiar to you? Actually, all one has to do to answer this is to step foot into one of the many Work Clubs created in partnership with our ULF/GMB learning project and Job Centre Plus.

Here we regularly see new people attending who feel strongly that they are having modern day maths inflicted upon them with Universal Credit and other schemes. Speak to anybody who is on the other side of the Work Club, those being the Job Centre Plus staff working to help people find work, and they will (mostly) tell you that Universal Credit is giving claimants the ability to control their finances. However, the reality is that most people are suffering a degree of stress and depression, therefore their judgement when it comes to money is often somewhat clouded.

In most cases, the sums simply don’t add up. In most cases, it is a straight choice between having food in the cupboard or paying the gas bill. In a lot of new cases, putting food in the cupboard is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and results in eviction from the home.

Good mathematical skills are essential, however, sending people off to separate maths classes is not always the answer. It is for this reason that Functional Skills including maths is embedded into Work Club activities.

Speak to any attendee at a Work Club about the importance of being able to create a pie chart, and the probability is that this will not feature in their immediate needs. Ask any attendee whether they would like help in arranging their Universal Credit in such a way as to enable them to keep a roof over their heads, and obviously the answer would be “yes”.

The fact is that both problems require very similar mathematical skills. Maths courses are on offer and are regularly taken up by job seekers in order for them to become more attractive to potential employers, but we must first recognise basic needs have to be met before any real educational progression, and this is exactly what we provide for. Maslow’s theory (hierarchy of needs) explains this perfectly, and basically tells us that before true achievement (educational) can be made, first basic needs must be met.

The Job Centre Plus staff who run the Work Clubs for our ULF/GMB learning project spend time with each person during each session assessing maths skills. Each session is essentially a lesson. Not only are problems, or equations if you prefer being taught, other embedded mathematical skills are being delivered. 

Good examples would be in applying for jobs, working out travel times, petrol or public transport costs, and times for getting to interviews. All of this is maths, and the reason for a degree of success is in how the lessons are delivered. By relating real life problems to mathematical equations, those attending the Work Clubs are being given back the right of participation in society.

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Michelle Graham

Michelle Graham currently works on the GMB Learning Project in the Yorkshire Region. 

She's been part of the team for six years, and prior to this was working as a TUC Tutor (part-time), and a 'Roving Rep'.