The inquiry, launched by the Commons Work and Pensions and Education Select Committees, will examine Government proposals to introduce new life chances indicators – such as tracking child poverty by monitoring educational attainment at 16 and the number of children living in workless households. It also intends to set out a range of other indicators, including family breakdown, debt and addiction.
MP Frank Field, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said, ‘All the evidence points to our life chances being largely established in the very early years from the womb onwards. We can predict as children cross the school threshold for the first time their attainment and chances of gainful employment.’
Chair of the Education Select Committee Neil Carmichael MP added, ‘By joining forces in this way, we also hope to examine more effectively the work taking place across Whitehall on early years interventions and how they interact with the benefits system and public services.’
The Pre-school Learning Alliance welcomed the focus on early years but questioned the ‘wider changes’ proposed. The inquiry forms part of work commissioned by the Government to look at social mobility and poverty.
Last month, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission – an advisory, non-departmental body chaired by ‘social mobility tsar’ Alan Milburn – published its annual report.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘There are already a number of tangible economic indicators which measure child poverty and can be used to determine life chances. While indicators such as educational attainment and household employment are indeed relevant when assessing child poverty, if these are to be formally monitored, this should be in addition to – not instead of – financial indicators.’
Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said, ‘Nine children in every UK classroom of 30 are poor. This inquiry is potentially an important step towards ending that shaming reality. However, our evidence to the inquiry will point to the devastating effect the freezing of benefits has had on low-income families. It is time that children’s benefits were given the kind of “triple lock” protection that pensioners’ incomes enjoy.
‘And, crucially, our submission will warn against the Government’s plan to scrap the statutory duty to measure and report on how much income poverty there is. Because if you don’t know how many families have too little money, you can’t produce a strategy to reduce child poverty and its toxic effects. If, instead of measuring income poverty, you only look at GCSE results and worklessness – as planned – millions of children who are poor but have working parents are cut out of the national picture. Nearly 50,000 people have already signed a petition against the plan at Change.org.’
Dr Lala Manners, director of Active Matters, said the recent Spending Review means councils have had budget cuts of up to £2 million, and has resulted in the closure of Sure Starts and the amalgamation of children’s centres. She commented, ‘How on earth can [Government] have an inquiry about social mobility and life chances when they are at the same time forcing councils to cut provision for young children?’
She added that life chances are dependent on health. ‘We have to get the basics right. If children are not physically well, resilient and strong, you can forget social mobility. If children go to school not properly fed or dressed, or if they are overweight, have rotten teeth or haven’t had sight or hearing tests, their emotional health will suffer – and this has to be a priority.’
- The deadline to submit evidence to the inquiry is 29 February. Visit www.parliament.uk and search ‘Foundation years and the UK Government’s life chances strategy’.