This paper explores the discourses of power in adult literacy and numeracy (ALN) teaching and learning that were highlighted through the processes of accessing and gaining the views of ALN learners for a research project on the quality of learning and teaching. It details the problems encountered in gaining access to this group of learners and discusses how they are rooted within the discourses of power and deficit that permeate ALN teaching and learning. It also argues that the pedagogical structures of 1:1 learning that characterise sections of ALN provision reinforce the suppression of collective voice by individualising the 'problem' and its solution. It suggests that whilst ALN learning aims to effect change in individuals and in society, the structures and power relationships within it militate against such change. The paper shows that in learning communities where power and meaning are mutually negotiated learners do begin to recognise their personal worth and power and its impact in the wider world. However, it argues that critical, radical adult learning extends beyond the parameters of individual change. It is a collective process whereby people who begin to see themselves differently as individuals also question together the asymmetrical power relationships that have marginalised them and their practices, and act to change them. The learners' comments show that, although they had changed through participating in learning, the change process was essentially individualised, and almost entirely devoid of these critical elements.