Books

Why books matter: More than 380,000 UK kids don’t own a book

But having a book of their own makes kids six times more likely to read above the level expected for their age, says the National Literacy Trust

Child reading in library

Literacy is vital in preventing poverty – and that’s why it is so important that kids have access to books.

For 383,755 kids growing up in the UK in 2019, that is access they are being denied, according to the National Literacy Trust’s ninth annual survey.

Not one of those children own a book and it is already leaving them behind – the kids who do own books are six times more likely to read above the level expected for their age and are three times more likely to enjoy reading.

Far too many children are missing out on the chance to reach their full potential simply because they don’t have a book of their own at home

And the lack of access is down to inequality too. Disadvantaged children are less likely than their peers to own a book, although the gap is closing with the gap between haves and have-nots halving in the last six years, according to the research.

But the Trust are still keen to do their bit, asking for help in delivering books to kids going without this Christmas, adding to the 340,000 books they have gifted to kids in the last six years.

Their chief executive Jonathan Douglas said: “Far too many children are missing out on the chance to reach their full potential simply because they don’t have a book of their own at home.

“By donating to the National Literacy Trust this Christmas, you can help us give a disadvantaged child their very first book.”

However, while the gap may be closing when it comes to book ownership, libraries remain under threat of closure across the country, closing off another avenue for hard-up kids to get reading.

In his BBC interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday, Boris Johnson appeared to pin the blame on local authorities for the hundreds of library closures in recent years.

The Prime Minister said: “I love libraries.

“I’m afraid very often local authorities – and yes we want to be spending more and want to be supporting local authorities – but some local authorities have been able to manage their finances so as to open libraries. I want to invest in opening libraries but we can only do that if we get the economy motoring.”

This attracted a robust response from library association CILIP chief executive Nick Poole, who worked with The Big Issue on ‘Public Libraries: The Case for Support’ – a report sent to policy makers championing libraries.

Poole pointed out that Johnson’s comments included “three key misconceptions”. He stressed that local library services are not just the responsibility of local councils and that “the previous Conservative government had failed to oversee and improve public library services” as required by the Public Libraries Act 1964.

Secondly, he pointed the finger of blame at 30-40 per cent cuts from central government as the reason for closures rather than “sound financial management” and called for a fair funding settlement for local government.

And finally, he disagreed with Johnson’s claim that investing in libraries will be a result of economic recovery, insisting that libraries create opportunities for education and skills across the country, a key driver of economic growth.

Poole said: “We are delighted that following determined lobbying by CILIP and others libraries are finally part of our national political debate.

“Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn have commented on the need to invest in public libraries in the past week, helping to shine a light on the value of libraries and librarians at the heart of communities everywhere and the need to rebuild after 10 years of austerity. We were pleased to see mentions of libraries in manifesto commitments from the Labour Party, Conservatives, The Green Party and the Liberal Democrats.”

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