It was recently reported that Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You, has stepped in and put up £360,000 of her own money to ensure that the adult literacy campaign Quick Reads is able to continue.
The scheme had got into trouble when funding from both its long-term sponsor Galaxy, and the Arts Council, dried up last year, and publishers, authors and readers received this news with shock and devastation. It seemed a double-hit for Quick Reads to be lost, since a lack of Arts Council funding has also meant that libraries have struggled to make ends meet in recent years.
The Arts Council, an institution which is supposed to champion arts and culture across the UK, is unable to invest properly and effectively in vital services such as libraries, and there is no side-stepping that the ultimate result of this is the loss of these libraries from our communities. Just last year, a £66 million drop in funding meant that over one-hundred local libraries were forced to shut their doors.
At a time when the publishing industry is beginning to make itself more inclusive, with work experience schemes for people from disadvantaged backgrounds and brilliant new initiatives such as the children’s publisher ‘Knights Of’, which champions diverse authors, cuts to literacy funding represent a serious obstacle. After all, it’s not difficult to figure out where the closure of libraries and the loss of schemes like Quick Reads will hit hardest. Of course, it will be those who have no access to books by any other means – the poorest and least advantaged in our society – who lose out.
The Arts Council, an institution which is supposed to champion arts and culture across the UK, is unable to invest properly and effectively in vital services such as libraries, and there is no side-stepping that the ultimate result of this is the loss of these libraries from our communities.
Indeed, any funding cuts to the arts represent a true danger to our society, but there is a special urgency and panic around the potential loss of literacy-based ventures; the National Literacy Trust recently reported that a huge 15% (or 5.1 million) adults in the UK are ‘functionally illiterate’. Access to books is not a want but a need, and the focus on adult literacy clearly needs as much as attention as children’s.
Ours is a country which prides itself on its great writers of the past, and the fantastic, new, literary talent which we are producing nowadays. However, we are already seeing the effects of a sustained neglect from this government of the importance of a widespread literacy. How can we hope to produce a diverse and rich array of literature in the future, if we cut off the least-advantaged portions of the population from access to books?
For now, we can breathe easy in the knowledge that we have brilliant people like Jojo Moyes in our midst, who are willing to fill in funding-gaps for schemes like Quick Reads. Yet, as austerity continues, this is not a problem which will be going away any time soon, and we can’t always rely on knights in shining armour to salvage our vital services. This government needs to recognise the insurmountable link between functioning literacy and a celebration of the literary, and of course, needs to make that literacy available to all.