Early years crucial to life chances strategy

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Plans set out in the Queen’s Speech to focus on improving life chances for disadvantaged families will not work unless the Government tackles child poverty, charities say.

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Many families are struggling with debt, charities warn

The Queen’s speech on Wednesday announced that, ‘To tackle poverty and the causes of deprivation, including family instability, addiction and debt, my government will introduce new indicators for measuring life chances.’

A briefing note published to accompany the speech said that the Government would be introducing new indicators for measuring life chances.

The forthcoming Life Chances Strategy will set out the Government’s ‘new approach to tackling poverty and transforming the lives of the most disadvantaged children and families’, it said.

The strategy will include a set of measures on the root causes of poverty and will also say more about how the Government intends to tackle ‘deep rooted social problems to transform lives so that everyone can realise their full potential.’

Commentators warned that the strategy would need to start with the early years.

While the chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), Julia Unwin, welcomed the Government's 'focus on trying to deliver a more socially just country', she said,‘The building blocks for an all-out assault of poverty begin in early childhood, carry on throughout working life and ensure people are free of poverty in retirement. This involves a comprehensive plan to ensure people have the opportunity to find a job and a home that provides economic security.’

‘But we know measuring family instability, addiction and debt is not a cure for the millions of people who experience poverty.'

She cited ONS figures published this week that show that almost a third of the UK population experienced poverty at least once in a three-year period, while almost four million are stuck in persistent poverty.

Liz Marsden, founder and director of Early Excellence said that the Government’s new focus on improving life chances was very welcome. 

‘It is vital that this starts in the early years, as we know experiences at this time are critical to a child’s future.

‘Steps to measure and improve life chances need to include wellbeing and mental and physical health. We look forward to working with the Government to make sure any new initiatives have a genuinely positive impact on early years provision, assessment and accountability.’

The Children's Society also warned that millions of families were already struggling and that child poverty was set to rise in the next few years, with the Government’s cuts to benefits.

Chief executive Matthew Reed said, ‘The Government’s welcome interest in improving life chances will mean little without a concerted effort to tackle child poverty, which is projected to rise significantly in the coming years.

‘Reducing the number of families struggling with debt and surviving on low incomes must be at the centre of any new strategy. The best way of improving children’s chances of having a decent start in life is to make sure they are not growing up in cold homes or without hot meals.

‘If the Government is serious about improving the life chances of the most disadvantaged children and families it will need to do much more, including in the Autumn Statement, to turn its rhetoric into reality. The first step should be scrapping the four-year freeze on children’s benefits and cuts to support for working families under Universal Credit.’

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