9th July, 2021 11:28 am
A commission of MPs and children’s campaigners has identified ending child poverty as a core priority for improving early years support and learning in the next decade.
The Early Years Commission, which is co-chaired by former children’s minister and Conservative MP for Eddisbury Edward Timpson, warns that two million families with a child under the age of five live in poverty.
At the age of three a child living in poverty is nearly one and a half years behind their more affluent peers in language development.
In addition, children eligible for free school meals are one and a half times more likely to be behind their peers in early learning and development, states the commission’s report and manifesto.
“The experience of adversity in our earliest years relates closely to poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and poor mental, emotional and physical health later in life,” it warns.
The report adds that poverty has worsened amid the Covid-19 pandemic and calls for early years investment not to be “placed at the bottom of the Chancellor’s red box” in the next Comprehensive Spending Review.
In December 2020, a YouGov survey of more than 3,000 people was carried out for the commission, showing that only one per cent of people believe children under the age of five have been prioritised by the government during the pandemic.
Recommendations made by the commission include a call to tackle silos in public services to “draw together early years service spending in each local authority to deliver a place-based, coordinated offer with children at its heart”.
Parental leave for employees should be extended and additional health visits when a child is 18 months and between three and three and a half should take place, it adds.
There should be “a dedicated, locally relevant parent support service in every community”, the commission states.
Early years funding should be overhauled with a new system that “prioritises the child more effectively”.
In addition, children’s centres and family hubs should be rolled out to the areas where families are most in need of support.
The commission is co-chaired by Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West Sharon Hodgson and its members include Sara Bonetti, director of early years at the Education Policy Institute, and Imran Hussain, policy and campaigns director at Action for Children.
Hogdson and Timpson in their foreward to the report said: “We must make young children society’s top priority, by working to end child poverty and making sure our public services, and those they work alongside, deliver what the whole family needs.
“We must all help to make homes a nurturing and safe environment, giving parents time away from work, the financial stability to focus on their child, and the support they need to have strong and healthy relationships.”
Early years sector leaders have welcomed the commission’s recommendations.
Early Years Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said: “We know that the first five years of a child’s life are absolutely critical to their long-term life chances – and yet, for years now, the early years sector has been at the bottom of the pile of government priorities.
“We urge the government to take this opportunity to completely rethink its approach to the early years, and to ensure that those caring for and educating children in their most important years are given the support they need and deserve.”
Meanwhile, National Day Nurseries Association chief executive Purnima Tanuku said: “Evidence has repeatedly shown that children’s early education and development are absolutely crucial to their long term educational outcomes and their life chances as a result.
“The Early Years Commission’s report and manifesto underlines how important it is to us as a society to get early years right for children, parents and communities.”
Source: Children & Young People Now
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