The race to succeed in life is over for many children in the UK by the day they first arrive in primary school, a report has warned.
By the age of just five, “huge class differences” already exist between the abilities of pupils from comfortable and disadvantaged backgrounds, condemning many poor children to grow up to be poor adults, said the report’s author Frank Field.
The Labour MP - recruited as “poverty tsar” by David Cameron - called on the Government to give more support to parents and children in the first five years of life, with the aim of breaking the cycle of disadvantage which traps families in poverty over generations.
The report by his Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances was welcomed by the Prime Minister and his deputy Nick Clegg as a “hugely valuable contribution” to the coalition Government’s drive to end child poverty by 2020.
Mr Field recommended the creation of a set of Life Chances Indicators to measure children’s cognitive, physical and emotional development at the ages of of three and five, as a measure of how successful Britain is at making life’s outcomes more equal for all children.
And the report called for reform of the education system, with a new focus on what it termed the Foundation Years, covering the period between conception and five years of age.
During this period - which should be regarded as the first of three educational stages, followed by school and higher or further education - parents should be offered midwifery and maternity advice, a home visiting service and a wide network of voluntary support for families.
Controversially, the report proposes that benefits for children should not automatically be increased each year. Instead, ministers should consider if the money could be used more effectively to widen life chances and defeat child poverty by building up Foundation Years provision.
Former welfare reform minister Mr Field said the recommendations in his report, entitled The Foundation Years: Preventing Poor Children Becoming Poor Adults, aimed to “change the shape of the distribution of income in this country” by enabling poor children to gain the skills to go on to highly paid careers.
“If we can ensure that parents from poor families know how best to extend the life opportunities of their children then - even if we cannot end income poverty in the short term - we can break this inter-generational cycle of disadvantage,” he wrote.
“We can ensure that poor children don’t inevitably take their poverty into adulthood.