One in four adults has the maths skills of a nine-year-old or worse and struggles with the most basic everyday sums, new research suggests.

The government last week released a 425-page report based on a Skills for Life survey that tested the maths and literacy abilities of 16 to 65-year-olds across England.

It shows that a quarter of the population — about a million more than a decade ago — can do maths to the same level as primary pupils aged between 7 and 9.

Between 2003 and 2011 there was a large improvement in adults at level 2 literacy and above, but 24 per cent (8.1 million people) lack basic numeracy, and 15 per cent (5.1 million people) lack basic literacy.

It’s vital that we ensure all adults are given the opportunity to learn the English and maths skills they need for everyday life.”

David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), said he believed the government’s funding system could be partly responsible.

“This is complex but put very simply I am sure that the funding system has pushed people towards supporting learners who can make the jump to level 1 and level 2 — and who they are confident will achieve the qualification — rather than focus on those with lower-level needs who are less likely to progress to a full qualification quickly.”

The government’s recent Skills Funding Statement said pilots on how FE providers could be funded on the basis of skills gained by learners are now in place. Evaluation will be published next June.

Carol Taylor, director for development and research at NIACE, said: “There has been a huge effort from teachers, managers, volunteers and learners over the past 10 years leading to a significant improvement in the literacy skills of the country, albeit for those at a higher level.

“NIACE’s inquiries, and the government’s review of Skills for Life, have shown that those with the poorest skills have been the least well served. One in six of the adult population has some difficulty with aspects of reading and writing, and one in four struggles with maths. This means that they are seriously disadvantaged – in work, in health and in their role as parents.

“It’s vital that we ensure all adults are given the opportunity to learn the English and maths skills they need for everyday life.”

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said this research supported the government’s drive to boost basic skills across the country, with Skills Minister Matthew Hancock last month announcing a doubling of funding for English and functional skills qualifications in English and maths.

Mr Hancock said: “Good English and maths are vital for getting a job and playing a full part in society.

“I would urge anyone who is struggling to take advantage of the provision that is on offer that now includes maths and English GCSEs for adults who missed out the first time round.”