Almost a million children in the UK do not own a book

<span>Photograph: Kaliantye/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Kaliantye/Alamy

Almost a million children in the UK do not have a single book of their own at home, according to new research conducted by the National Literacy Trust.

Some 91.4% of children aged five to 18 who were surveyed said that they had a book of their own, meaning that 8.6% (one in 12) did not.

The study also found that twice as many children aged eight to 18 who received free school meals did not report owning a book (12.4%) compared with those who did not receive free school meals (5.8%).

The gap in book ownership between children who did receive free school meals and those who did not is at its largest in a decade. “Pressure on household budgets due to increasing food and energy prices has a direct impact on families’ ability to support reading at home,” states the report.

NLT research published earlier this year found that 36% of families who felt that they were struggling financially with increases in the cost of living said they were spending less on books for their children.

Book ownership was lower among the five to eight age bracket (80.8%) compared to the eight to 18 group (92.9%). The NLT said that lower book ownership among younger children is “concerning” because “foundational reading skills, behaviours and attitudes are often being established” at this age.

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Girls reported own books at slightly higher rates than boys. In the five to eight age group, 83.7% of girls reported book ownership, compared to 77.5% of boys. This gap is the highest it has been for five years.

London-based children aged eight to 18 owned books at a slightly higher rate than other regions, with 94.6% of children in Greater London reporting that they had a book of their own. The lowest ownership was reported in the north-west (91.2%) and the East Midlands (91.3%).

The report urged that support for book ownership be targeted at younger children and children from lower-income backgrounds, “allowing them the same opportunities as their peers to enjoy reading their own books at home”.

The NLT is also launching a Christmas fundraising campaign to give books to children. “Christmas is a time for family and sharing stories, so it is devastating to think almost a million children might not have books to read and enjoy with their loved ones this year,” said Jonathan Douglas, CEO of the NLT.

The NLT surveyed 71,351 children in two questionnaires distributed to schools. One survey was for the five to eight age bracket (Year 1 to Year 4, or Primary 2 to Primary 5 for Scotland) and the other was designed for the eight to 18 group (Year 4 to Year 13, or Primary 5 to Secondary 6 for Scotland). The surveys contained similar questions, but the survey for younger children was shorter and more pictorial. Teachers decided which of the surveys their Year 4 pupils completed.