The UK Metric Association has issued the following press release:
… news release … news release … news release … news release … news release…
Embargoed until 01:00 on Friday, 24 January 2014
Government policy on metrication has failed – says metric group
London, 24 January 2014
The UK’s dysfunctional muddle of two incompatible measurement systems will continue indefinitely unless the Government takes decisive action. This is the conclusion of a report from the UK Metric Association (UKMA) based on a new opinion survey carried out by YouGov.
A follow-up survey also shows that if a future government were to end the official use of the remaining imperial units (such as miles on road signs) it would have no impact on the result of a General Election.
UKMA spokesperson, Robin Paice, said: “We have known for many years that the UK is stuck in a muddle of metric and imperial measurements. What our report shows is that more than half the population do not understand some of the basic weights and measures. But it also shows that most people are happy to use metric units if they are the normal units in general use – e.g. using metres to measure a room for floor coverings. The solution to the muddle is obvious: it is in the national interest to finish the job of converting to metric units for all purposes. The trouble is that politicians are scared of doing the right thing in case it loses them votes. However, the follow-up survey demonstrates that completing the conversion to metric units would make absolutely no difference to the result of a general election.”
What the surveys do show is that successive governments’ attempts to convert the UK to general use of metric units have failed. This is because government policy has been based on the false assumption that because children are taught metric units in maths and science lessons at school, they will grow up using metric units in everyday life – and therefore governments need only wait for the change to occur naturally. However, experience has shown that this assumption is wrong, and the change is not happening.
Thus the “very British mess” will continue indefinitely unless the Government intervenes. The covering report argues that this “mess” is not just a harmless national quirk but actually does real damage in terms of consumer protection, health and safety, communication, wasted education, understanding of science, accidents, conversion errors and foreign perception of the UK as insular and out of date. Finally, the report lists the essential steps needed to resolve the “mess”.
The full covering report of the surveys can be read at http://ukma.org.uk/docs/sam.pdf, and its Executive Summary, which is appended to this notice, is available at http://ukma.org.uk/docs/sam-exec-summary.pdf
Notes for editors:
- The UK Metric Association (UKMA) is an independent, non-party political, single issue organisation which provides accurate information on the international metric system (“Système International”) and supports its adoption for all official, trade, legal, contractual and other purposes in the United Kingdom as soon as practicable. UKMA is financed entirely by membership subscriptions and personal donations.
- All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample sizes were 1978 adults and 1878 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 2nd – 3rd September and 7th – 8th November 2013 respectively. The surveys were carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
- Further extensive background information can be found generally on UKMA’s website at www.ukma.org.uk .
- UKMA also has a blog at www.metricviews.org.uk.
- Robin Paice (spokesperson for UKMA in respect of this survey) is available for interviews in Portsmouth or by telephone on 023 9275 5268. Alternatively the UKMA Chairman John Frewen-Lord may also be contacted on 07803 594985, or in person in Grimsby.
Still a mess
The continuing failure of UK measurement policy
Government policy on metrication has failed. This is because it is based on the false assumption that, as children receive some metric education in maths lessons at school, they will grow up using metric units. Therefore (so it is assumed) as the population ages, acceptance and adoption of metric units will grow until eventually the metric system will be the default system for all purposes.
Unfortunately, experience has not borne out this assumption.
Based on this false assumption, and having achieved partial metrication in most fields of activity, successive governments have given up on trying to complete the conversion of the UK to primary use of metric units. No further action is planned.
The UK Metric Association (UKMA) therefore commissioned YouGov to carry out a survey of public understanding and use of metric and imperial units and of public support for completing the metric changeover. A follow-up survey also examined the salience of metrication as a political issue. Key results were as follows:
- Half of respondents were opposed to completing metrication, with a quarter supportive and a fifth indifferent or noncommittal.
- Although younger generations were more supportive than the older, still 36% of the 18-24 age group were opposed.
- Where there are specific practical reasons for using metric units, the majority of the population prefer to use them
- However, where parental, peer and media pressures are strongly in favour of imperial units, all age groups continue to use imperial – including for personal weighing
- Although there was a definite association between age and acceptance/use of metric units, there was still either a majority or a large minority of younger people who habitually use imperial rather than metric units for various everyday functions
- Thus the basic assumption that underlies Government policy – that metric education in school will lead naturally to a general acceptance of metric units for all purposes – is shown to be incorrect.
It is concluded that, without Government action to complete metrication, the present dysfunctional muddle of two incompatible measurement systems – the “very British mess” – will continue indefinitely.
So why does this “mess” matter?
The “mess” matters for several reasons:
To function effectively, an adult in Britain needs to have a detailed knowledge of two measurement systems. Yet the YouGov survey showed that:
- 76% of respondents were unable to answer correctly how many yards there are in a mile
- 43% could not say how many metres there are in a kilometre
- 32% of respondents were unable to answer correctly how many pounds there are in a stone
- 39% did not give the correct answer when asked how many grams there are in a kilogram
- These findings suggest that many adults in Britain are unable to understand or make use of the key information that is provided for their protection or benefit .
Incompatible units make comparison difficult – undermining consumer protection
Mutual incomprehension – people who use different systems don’t understand each other
Constant need to convert – prone to errors
Accidents – such as the airliner that ran out of fuel as a result of wrong conversion
Costs – of mistakes, and of running two systems
Failure to reap the benefits of past investment in metrication – esp in education
Foreign perception of the UK as insular and living in the imperial past
Politicians of all parties need to recognise that:
- the policies of successive governments over the past 40 years have failed, and
- Government action is needed to resolve the problem
Specific action includes:
- Declaration that completing metrication remains the Government’s objective
- Duty on public sector bodies to use metric units
- Requirement to use metric units in advertising and product description
- Conversion of road signs and speed limits
- Better enforcement of existing rules
Contrary to the common assumption that metrication is a vote loser, the survey evidence shows that such a programme of action would be very unlikely to cost a party votes in the context of a general election or to make any difference to the result.