Books

Lily Cole and John Bird launch campaign to fight global illiteracy

Big Issue founder John Bird joins actress Lily Cole in calling upon the UN to tackle global illiteracy, the root cause of many social issues

John Bird, founder of The Big Issue

Big Issue founder John Bird joined forces with model and actress Lily Cole yesterday in a global call to tackle illiteracy.

Big Issue founder Baron Bird – who will make his maiden speech in the House of Lords later this week – joined Cole in launching a Project Literacy campaign called the Alphabet of Illiteracy at the House of Commons. He called for a need for “social literacy” to be acknowledged, and illustrated his own journey from illiteracy, showing how learning to read and write changed the trajectory of his life.

It’s estimated that around one in ten people worldwide are unable to read or write. Nearly two-thirds of illiterate adults are women. Campaigners argue that these individuals are at significantly more risk of being affected by major social issues such as illness and crime.

The campaign lists a number of social issues that could be alleviated by improving literacy, such as child marriage, malnutrition, gender inequality and female genital mutilation. H in the alphabet stands for ‘homelessness’, highlighting how lack of literacy is tied into the issue of homelessness.

Project Literarcy is urging people to sign a petition calling on the UN to take literacy more seriously, saying it is the root cause of almost every major problem humanity faces.

“We need to put illiteracy more central to our thinking,” Cole told MPs. “I’m not pretending I have the solution to the problems. I’m trying to raise awareness and make people think about illiteracy in a more comprehensive way.”

Project Literacy is a global campaign supported by 40 charities and educational organisations with the target that by 2030 no newborn child will face a life of poor literacy.

Campaigners have launched a petition urging action on illiteracy, which will be presented to the UN in New York on International Literacy Day on 8 September.

“I would encourage you to sign that petition today,” Cole added. “It’s a very simple maxim: inform and empower people to take charge of their own lives, and they will become the agents of the change we wish to see in the world.”

Find your local vendor

Find your Vendor

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Top 5 books on future tech and video game fiction, chosen by star YA author Triona Campbell
Books

Top 5 books on future tech and video game fiction, chosen by star YA author Triona Campbell

We owe children an apology for the state of the nation, says Caledonian Road author Andrew O'Hagan
Books

We owe children an apology for the state of the nation, says Caledonian Road author Andrew O'Hagan

Top 5 inventive, speculative fiction books – chosen by poet and playwright Joelle Taylor
Books

Top 5 inventive, speculative fiction books – chosen by poet and playwright Joelle Taylor

I wouldn't exist if not for a gruesome mass murder in 1905 – we owe our lives to chance and chaos
Books

I wouldn't exist if not for a gruesome mass murder in 1905 – we owe our lives to chance and chaos

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know