UK business leaders gathered in London last night to show their commitment to tackling the nation's growing literacy and social mobility crisis by signing the Vision for Literacy Business Pledge 2018. Businesses including KPMG, Costa, PwC and Penguin Random House attended the annual Pledge seminar, which was supported by the Education Secretary, Justine Greening.

In 2018, the Vision for Literacy Business Pledge will focus on closing the early years attainment gap to give all children the best possible start in life. 54 businesses have already pledged their support, including Man Group, Amazon, Southern Water, HCP, The Phoenix Group, Purple Bricks, The FA, Facebook, McDonald's, Sainsbury's and WHSmith.

First established in 2015 by the National Literacy Forum, which is led by the National Literacy Trust and of which Beanstalk is a member, the Pledge gives businesses the support they need to tackle literacy problems in the workplace, local community and on a national level. To date, as a result of the Pledge, 67% of businesses have reported improved employee engagement and 50% saw employee morale and motivation rise.

As the UK prepares to leave the EU, businesses must become more competitive in order to survive and thrive in a global marketplace. But as the pressure to retain skilled staff and recruit the best talent increases, businesses are seeing a widening gap between the basic skills they need from their workforce and the skills these employees actually have.

Young people in the UK have some of the poorest literacy skills in the world; particularly those from the most disadvantaged areas. These children and young people will struggle at school, will be locked out of the job market and consequently won't secure the income they need to break the cycle of poverty in which they live.

Far from being restricted to regions with low income, high unemployment and social deprivation, analysis by Experian and the National Literacy Trust shows that serious literacy issues exist in 86% of constituencies in England.

To address these challenges, the Department for Education's Opportunity Areas programme is targeting local and national resources in the 12 areas with the greatest social mobility and literacy problems. By tackling disadvantage at every stage of a child's schooling, from early years through to employment, the programme aims to give every child the best possible chance to succeed in life.

Education Secretary Justine Greening said:

"I want to make sure that everyone has the same opportunity to reach their potential, regardless of where they are growing up or their background. Making sure children can read fluently helps give them the best possible start in life and through our raised standards and emphasis on phonics, an additional 154,000 six year olds are on track to becoming fluent readers.

"But there is more to do to tackle social mobility and businesses have a vital role to play in this, so it is encouraging to see so many leading organisations signing the Vision for Literacy Business Pledge. It supports the work we are already doing through our Opportunity Areas programme, which brings together employers, schools and councils to boost attainment from the early years of a child's education right through to university."

The Social Mobility Commission estimates that it will take 40 years at the current rate of progress to close the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged five-year-olds. The National Literacy Forum, led by the National Literacy Trust, is giving businesses the opportunity to make a difference by signing the Vision for Literacy Business Pledge 2018.

Ginny Lunn, Chief Executive Officer at Beanstalk, said:

"We are delighted to see so many businesses signing the Vision for Literacy Business Pledge 2018. We know how rewarding businesses find the corporate volunteering opportunities that Beanstalk offers and reversely the positive impact that their one-to-one reading support is having on young lives. Driving support from businesses is vital to tackling the national literacy gap and to ensure that by the time children reach adulthood, they have the skills and confidence to make valuable contributions to society." 

Find out more about corporate volunteering at Beanstalk and other ways your company can help improve literacy in the UK. 

For further details about the Vision for Literacy Business Pledge visit www.literacytrust.org.uk.