3.8M children in the UK don't own a book

That's what the National Literacy Trust says.

Poorer children and boys were less likely to have books, it added.

The survey was carried out in September with school-aged children from 111 schools across the UK.

It suggested that a third (33.2%) did not have books of their own. That translates to 3.8m children UK-wide.

National Literacy Trust highlights book-free millions


  1. Wow. I grew up poor in the ’60’s and oddly enough we did have books. People were always giving away books and my mother would grab any she could get. I, of course, wanted toys. I am thankful to this day that my mother began teaching us to read at a very early age. I even skipped a grade because of that.

    I wonder if there are statistics for kids in the U. S. and Canada? I’ll check…

  2. Obviously, these children need to be put to work so they can afford to buy their own books.

    I hear Smidely & Gunch’s Blacking Works are hiring  label boys.

  3. It’s hard to tell what this really means for literacy without corresponding information on access to the Internet and libraries. In this day and age especially, one does not necessarily need physical books to be reading, as this blog has well attested in past posts. This of course does not mean that people without books are likely to be reading on Kindles, but they may be reading nonetheless. Plus, how many people own books that they’ve never read?

    1. The same article says that 20% of children in the UK have never visited either a bookshop or library.

      What strikes me as crazy is that I dont see any mention of school books in the study. Is it possible that a third of UK school children do not their own school books? Surely not.

      *EDIT* On closer inspection the actual report says that only 7% of school children surveyed had never visited a library.

      1. Most of the kids in my wife’s classes (7th grade english) do not own a school book.
        They’re kind of provided by the school, but for loan only (Who keeps a 7th grade English book?).

        Has anyone seen matching statistics for the U.S.?
        Haven’t been able to find anything with Google.

        1. In the UK, we always had books provided for us in school. I was deeply saddened to discover later that all historical figures did not have the huge cocks and unfeasibly large testicles proffered by my history texts.

      2. School books are not books, they are “text books”, real books are the ones you read only for the pure pleasure of lecture.

  4. Are there seriously kids who don’t own books?  My kids almost have an entire library.   We don’t have tons of money, but books are one of those things that are just so simple to buy.  They sell kids books at the dollar store, as well as lots of used book retailers.  They are exteremely cheap.  This isn’t even really a money issue so much as a bad parenting issue.  Regardless of how much money you have, you should be able to provide a few books for your kids.  As @eldritch said, the numbers are probably higher for phones and designer clothes.  Most of the people I see struggling with money aren’t struggling because they don’t make enough money, but rather because they have bad spending habits, and make bad decisions about money.

    1. “Regardless of how much money you have, you should be able to provide a few books for your kids.” Really? What if you’ve got this much money:   £amount < (cost of food, clothes, transport, rent, essential bills) ?  

      How then can people afford books? You really don't have a clue how hard it is for many people. 

      1. I’m sorry but there is no one with children (and all the additional government support that that provides) in the UK who can’t afford books.  There are charity shops on every major shopping street which have a wide selection of good kids books for pennies.

        Second hand kids books are extremely cheap because once kids grow out of them they get passed on.  If you keep your eyes open walking around town all day you will be able to find enough change to buy your kid a book.

        1. You’re making a lot of incorrect assumptions that show that, again, you don’t know what some people’s lives are like. And yes, I am talking about the UK.

          What about if you live in the middle of an estate with only a pub and a convenience shop, miles from a major shopping street , and travelling to one would cost £3 in bus fare, which is about 5% of your weekly income from which you need to feed and cloth X number of children and pay all the other bills? I’m not saying that there aren’t parents who could try harder to get their children reading, but these are the incredible circumstances for many people.

    2. It’s a question of culture. People who have not been read to as children often don’t develop the reading habit, have smaller vocabularies,  are more intimidated by books, don’t see the value in reading, and often don’t read to their own children.

      Pretty much the only way to break this cycle is for outside agencies — preschool, or outreach reading programs — to introduce reading to families of young kids, preferably to families of babies. 

      By the way, most of the people I see struggling with money, including myself and most of my neighbors, are struggling because there’s a crappy economy, and well-paying jobs with benefits are hard to come by.

      But of course it’s psychologically more comfortable to believe that other people’s problems are their fault.

  5. I fail to see why this is shocking. Books are being replaced by the Internet and the majority of books that a child is likely to want can be borrowed from local libraries for free.

    I prefer dead tree copies of non reference books but that does not mean that everyone feels the same way as me. I grew up reading dead tree books, current children grow up reading digital books.

    TL;DR edition: modern kids read use modern methods.

    1. The article also states that 20% of children have never been to either a bookshop or a library, so while I realise that doesn’t mean that 20% of children haven’t been to a library, I bet the percentage is actually relatively high. Of course, this also assumes that libraries are going to be readily available going forward.

    2. Libraries are pretty much always the first service to be affected by local government cutbacks. We’re seeing another freeze in council tax across the UK and continued reductions in central government funding, so we’re going to have fewer libraries, opening less often and offering fewer books.

      At the same time, the children who are least likely to own their own books are most likely to be in households with little or no internet connection.

    3. I have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that perhaps the well-scrubbed, apple-cheeked, iPad toting youngsters you’re envisioning aren’t the hollow-eyed, Dickensian urchins this article is referencing

  6. I wonder why that is. Books can be found dirt cheap at garage sales and used book stores. Is it because poor parents don’t read as much as parents with higher income and, therefore, don’t think to buy books for their kids? I didn’t have money growing up but my mom took us to the library on a regular basis. My parents also had a “no video games” rule which I hated at the time since all my school buddies constantly talked about their latest Atari games. In retrospect, I’m grateful for that rule because I’m sure I would have wasted many hours otherwise.

    1. In the US even the much despised Walmarts have book racks which include both adult best sellers and children’s books. Do the Tescos and similar establishments in the UK not hav them? i think the issue here is not that people in the UK are so poor they can’t even buy used books from a thrift store, but rather that it never occurs to them to even try. That is a different (and much scarier) situation.

      1. I’d take the opposite view.  Economic problems are incredibly difficult to solve.   Reading, however, is both good for you and enjoyable so it’s not that hard to get people to do it.  Fundamentally it’s a problem of advertising, and we’ve got lots of skills in advertising

        Michael Rosen is pretty inspirational on this front http://www.readingrevolution.co.uk/

  7. We have a generation in the UK that seem to have absolutely no interest in learning just for the sake of learning. I’m not talking about kids that are inherently stupid here, which in some respects makes it worse, but intelligent teenagers who have little awareness of the wider world around them. There seems to be a general disinterest in world affairs, politics (this one I notice particularly acutely) and little willingness to learn anything above and beyond what is taught in class. This is now compounded by the fact that this has been going on long enough for some of these people to start having children, and the cycle begins anew. So while I find this statistic shocking, I can’t say I’m overly surprised by the finding.

    1. It’s called ennui,  and more specifically disenfranchisement.

      There’s a history stretching back a good sixty years of disenfranchised youth in the UK. The government’s response has long been “well then, fuck ’em – the system will sort them out”.  And now that the system is no longer able to sort them out, a familiar old problem has suddenly taken on the visage of a strange new one.

        1. Well for one thing, before the 1950s there wasn’t really much of a youth culture to speak of anywhere.

          Also, there were the world wars, in which young people were a little too busy dealing with the horrors of mass scale human cruelty to be terribly disenfranchized, and before THAT, child labor was still legal.

  8. It might say more about literacy than about books or libraries.
    In the 19th century the home library consisted of the bible and the collected works of William Shakespeare. During the gold rush traveling troupes of actors performed the Barb in mining camps to audiences that already knew the plays. And today?

    1. Actual publishing practice in the 18th and 19th century seems to run contrary to your claim. When I look at old collections,  I see thousands of books clearly intended for use by average families. 

  9. Meanwhile, the Conservatives are working hard to make sure that even fewer children in the UK own books: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12586839

    1. Giving away books won’t help if kids don’t want them.
      I’m sure the same kids spend money on other entertainment/fashion items.

      1. Right, so you’re saying that Booktrust’s program of giving books to the parents of babies is a waste of time because the babies don’t want the books and are into iPods and designer nappies. Yeah, that makes sense.

  10. I’m a little bit dubious about these numbers.  According to the article in 2003 the number was 1 in 10, now it is 1 in 3.  That is an enormous drop over 7 years and one that needs accounting for.  What changed in those 7 years to increase that figure by over 2 million?  While there’s been an economic crash between then and now I find it hard to believe that has left that number of families so destitute they can’t afford to buy their children a single book (I’d go as far as to say that a book as a gift would be a cheaper alternative than say a computer game so an increase in book ownership would not be that surprising)

    The study itself is here http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/1303/The_Gift_of_Reading_in_2011.pdf if anyone wants a proper look.  They don’t seem to have attempted to sample/weight on anything other than gender which could be an issue, also the schools that took part were self selected.

  11. It’s poor parenting. Poor people are more likely to have kids at a younger age. They could give up a pint or two at the pub a week and buy a used Harry Potter book – but why would they do that?

  12. Don’t worry, they are not deprived. I am sure they all ahve TVs, and isn’t that good enough?

    Seriously, this isn’t to do with money exactly..used books are dirt cheap, and libraries are free. It’s to do with not giving a shit…

    1. And not giving a shit has to do with having any real reason to give a shit taken away from you.

      Treat people like shit long enough, they eventually start to truly believe it. Why try when you’re constantly told you aren’t worth anything and never will be? Just shut up and get a job, then toil until you die. At least with a telly they can watch the next royal wedding and marvel at how magnificent those graced by god are in comparison to themselves, right?

    2. Mostly when people don’t give a shit about books it’s because their parents never gave a shit about books. So blame the parents’ parents’ parents’ parents’ etc. Or drop the simplistic name calling and support projects that get poorer parents to read to their children.

  13. When I was a kid, I don’t think I owned any books, either, at least not until I was well into my teens. Our house was filled with books, though, and a great many of them were at my reading level. But they were family books, not ones I would have said I owned myself.

  14. I know what the problem is, I’ve seen Skins.  All the kids in UK are too busy doing drugs and sex, and don’t have time to find any books.

  15. It is unfortunate, books are an excellent way to learn about the world.  However it is also important that kids have access to tools and chances to use them.  That may well be as important in learning how the world works as books, although both are central.

  16. I would think the notion of having books at home is a  sentimental old paradigm from cosy homes. Some kids grow up in the maelstrom where having anything of their own is an exception.If kids want to read they will find stuff. Comics, newspapers, the Sunday Church Bulletin, on their phones, the magazines at the checkout etc. A bigger issue, I think, is the loss of the  notion of a book, wherein the reader is a willing captive as the author carries one through all the nooks and crannies of  a long plot with characters and ideas. This has been replaced by the “stream” of never ending pop culture stories and character driven news, reinforced by magazines and the web. All are easily consumed and often, have as much  brain nutrition as fast food has for your stomach. Tweens know the Pope wears Prada.
    Poor kids read Harry Potter, but they probably have different strategies for getting and reading it, without owning  and holding it. There is no shortage of torrents for books.
    I have  a teenage girl, and TL;DR is a badge of honour with many of her suburban friends. Long involved ideas that you have to read are boring or seen as boring, and they run as fast from critical thought as from a pregnant 20 year old. It might be catching.

  17. Englishman here, doubting most are deprived. hell im 23, and most of the friends my age dont own- and have never owned a single book, ebook or even read a pdf!

    They look at the 1000+ pages stephen king or hp lovecraft books i own with malign disgust. Because thats how it is in modern england.

    Reading books is still seen as ‘wot them swots do innit?’ and reading, like education is seen as something to be treated with derision and scorn. As though you ‘fink u r betta than us?’ for going to the trouble of learning, which is something that instills deep shame in your average english family nowadays.
    Because “what would the neighbours say”?

    and it is a godamn shame.

  18. Not surprising. UK society is incredibly stratified, separated in at least two or three cast like layers. Bottom third is (for multiple reasons) engulfed in a kind of sub-culture which finds reading books alien to them.

  19. I work with adults who claim not to have read a book since leaving school…I don’t believe these children are picking up digital copies or reading on-line. They’re watching DVDs or playing games. Not that I mind that, I wish they’d read as well. It saddens me greatly that children are not learning to read as a top priority, nothing else should matter until the child can competently read a book. 

  20. I work with adults who claim not to have read a book since leaving school…I don’t believe these children are picking up digital copies or reading on-line. They’re watching DVDs or playing games. Not that I mind that, I wish they’d read as well. It saddens me greatly that children are not learning to read as a top priority, nothing else should matter until the child can competently read a book. 

  21. We owned maybe half a dozen books when I was a kid, we just used the local and school library heavily. The problem with that idea is England is cutting libraries drastically.

  22. Rather than criticise the powers that be blaming parents and denouncing a disenfranchised youth why don’t we start to engage children in their own habitat. Living by the motto “fish where the fishes are”. Yes, children are playing more games and interacting online but why this has to be a negative experience is something that we, as mentors, are reinforcing. Using technology and games to stimulate learning is prevalent. Nothing will replace the book but in this era of technology there are other means to provide teaching and aid literacy.

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