Quick Reads and Unionlearn team up to address the UK’s reading deficit

2 February 2017: The new Quick Reads books, published today, are being used as part of a campaign run by Unionlearn to bring the proven benefits of reading for pleasure to workplaces across the UK.

One in six adults of working age in the UK find reading difficult and may never pick up a book. The projected cost of this deficit to the UK is £81 billion a year in lost earnings and increased welfare spending. It also affects children, who may be less likely to acquire the habit of reading if they do not observe it in adults.

Each year, Quick Reads – which was founded by Baroness Gail Rebuck in 2006 – commissions high-profile authors to write books that are specifically designed to be easy to read, making them more accessible to those who lack the time or the confidence to read for pleasure. This year’s list includes a re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast by Amanda Craig, a road trip in search of Poldark by Rowan Coleman, and a ground-breaking self-help text, Feel the Fear & Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, the first Quick Reads title in this genre.

Unionlearn will run a nationwide literacy week to tie in with the launch of the Quick Reads programme, on 2nd February, and supply copies of this year’s titles alongside The Reading Agency’s author, publisher, bookseller, education, commercial and library partners.

The social benefits of reading

The UK is the global leader in the English language generated creative industries and home to the world’s most loved and recognised literary brands, from Shakespeare and Dickens to JK Rowling. Yet, against expectations, the country frequently appears at the bottom of OECD rankings for literacy.

The 2016 OECD report ‘Building Skills for All: A Review of England’ rates teenagers aged 16 to 19 the worst of 23 developed nations. England has three times more low-skilled people in this age bracket than the best-performing countries, such as Finland or the Netherlands.

There are an estimated 9 million working age adults in England with low basic skills such as literacy, according to the report. These skills are critical to economic success, and are “associated with higher rates of economic activity, higher wages, and a lower risk of unemployment”, the OECD points out.

Our research suggests a wide range of social benefits associated with a positive reading culture, including an increased understanding of self and social identities, empathy, knowledge of other cultures, relatedness and community cohesion. In addition to helping to promote better health and well-being, reading for pleasure can provide the impetus and guidance for people to make significant changes to their lives, such as applying for a new job or taking up routines and hobbies.

“The reading deficit trap”

Baroness Gail Rebuck, DBE, Founder of Quick Reads, said:

“Quick Reads are the solution to the problem of bringing adults who do not yet read or who struggle to read into the habit of reading for pleasure. Huge resources are now being poured into early learning and rightly so, but we must not forget those families, who for whatever reason, are caught in the reading deficit trap, often with no books in the home. With Quick Reads, adults who are low in confidence, or time, or out of the habit can be encouraged into reading either for pleasure or at home with their children, breaking this cycle.

The ability to read and write is not only about being able to follow signs or fill in an application form. Reading can help us to connect with others, to make a positive change in our own lives and even lead us to greater wellbeing. As individuals, as a workforce, as a nation, we pay a high price if we do not read for pleasure.”

Sue Wilkinson, Chief Executive of The Reading Agency, said:

“Quick Reads have been created to solve a problem that has serious implications for our economy, and for the well-being and development of our children. Well-known authors write engaging and accessible books that are specifically designed to get adults back into reading, with enormous benefits for both adults and their children. Young people who see their parents and carers enjoy books are much more likely to get into a reading habit themselves.

“The Reading Agency aims to create a better understanding of the positive impact reading has on our personal lives, and on society as a whole. This year we are particularly pleased that Unionlearn are putting Quick Reads titles at the centre of a week-long, nationwide literacy campaign and we look forward to working with them to promote these great books as part of our mission to inspire more people to read more.”

Unionlearn has been working with Quick Reads for the last decade to supply books and promote reading through its network of 35,000 trained Union Learning Reps. There are nearly 350 union learning centres in workplaces across the UK, many of which have book swap clubs and links to local libraries. Last year, Unionlearn supported nearly 220,000 learners. This January, the organisation will be launching its Literacy Works campaign.

Kevin Rowan, Director of Unionlearn, said:

“Quick Reads are a brilliant idea and extremely popular with Union Learning Reps, who use them to promote reading at work. These reps find that Quick Reads are an ideal tool to engage workers and there is always a huge amount of interest in finding out which new titles will be released each year. Reps use the books in the workplace Book Clubs and Union Learning Centres they run, as well as in projects with the wider community.”

“The Unionlearn Literacy Works campaign, launched this month, is aimed at increasing learning around reading and writing skills in workplaces – and Quick Reads will be playing a vital part of this campaign.”

Amanda Craig, Quick Reads author, said:

“Quick Reads are a fantastic way to get people reading who have never found, or who have lost their confidence as readers. A lot of people never find the key that gives you this confidence, but it is there for every single person, and once you find it you are never bored or lonely again.

“When you can really read, it’s like developing a super power. Your imagination takes you anywhere, and that can help you with everything. This is why I was so delighted to contribute to the Quick Reads programme.”

Dreda at Unionlearn event.jpg

Dreda Say Mitchell, Quick Reads author, said:

“Quick Reads plays such an essential role in improving reading skills and I was deeply honoured to be invited to participate in the project. I’m also delighted that the unions are playing their part because literacy is so important both to their members and to wider society.

“I’ve seen for myself, as a youngster growing up in a poor area of one of our big cities, and then again as a teacher, the damage that can be done when people struggle with reading. While the focus is often on employment and life chances, it’s worth remembering that literacy has a far wider role than merely helping in the jobs market. Reading helps people understand their own lives, the lives of others, and the world around them. I’ll always be grateful to Whitechapel library for opening these doors when I went there as a child and we need to make this path available to everyone.

“But perhaps it was in prisons where I’ve seen the astonishing impact that literacy projects played in individual lives. As anyone who has done work with offenders will know, problems with reading are endemic in our prisons. If society is serious about rehabilitation and reducing reoffending, it needs to make improving reading skills a priority. And this is the thing about focusing on literacy and the work done by organisations such as The Reading Agency, Unionlearn, and projects such as Quick Reads. Not only is it important for the individuals concerned, it is vital for society as a whole.”

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