15 million British shoppers with math skills of fifth graders get government help

14.9 million adults in England do not have the math skills of an 11-year-old.

During this holiday shopping season, these poor souls will have trouble figuring out simple calculations for "20% off" or "buy one, get one half off,” according to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES).

Help is at hand. The DfES believes British shoppers are so helpless that it will dispatch teams of government “helpers” to roam the malls during this shopping season, where they will distribute over 200,000 special sales calculators to assist bargain hunters. According to the DfES Minister, Phil Hope: "We all use numbers every day, but millions struggle to do the kind of basic sums which are so essential to our lives at work and at home."

"After trying to work out that 60% off discount or multi-purchase deals, people may well be thinking about improving their skills in the New Year, and that's why the Get On campaign is out on the streets today. Everyone enjoys the hunt for a bargain, but people in Sheffield and York might not realise that they can brush up their math or reading and writing — locally, and for free!

Gwyneth Paltrow recently caught a lot of flak in the States for saying that "I love the English way, which is not as capitalistic as it is in America. People don't talk about work and money; they talk about interesting things at dinner parties."

No wonder they don't talk about money. If I only had a fifth-grade understanding of math, I would avoid talking about money as well. Now I think about it, Hermione was the only one who took Arithmancy at Hogwarts.

Edited to add: I just realized I came off was acting like a jackass in this post. I partially blame our fellow Wise Bread blogger Andrea, whose glowing review of Tim Hartford and his "lovely British accent" inspired some of the snarkiness of this post.

Making fun of people for their lack of math skills is no better than making fun of the illiterate (and probably more dangerous too, since the mathematically challenged can can still read my posts). So a heartfelt apology to all who were offended. We're here to help consumers, not to mock them.

And to show my good faith, let me give our British friends a piece of advice: Go out and grab these calculators! They are certain to become precious collector's items you can sell on eBay. They may also mark the triumph of machine over man, and become relics in future shrines build to honor our robot overlords; but I think the ebay scenario is more likely.

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