A Budget for the next generation?

Posted by Shelley Hopkinson / Thursday 17 March 2016 / Inequality Early intervention

This week, George Osborne announced his eighth Budget since becoming Chancellor in 2010. Beyond his more familiar messages about the long-term economic plan, this speech was pitched as a “Budget for the next generation.” But was it, and at what age does the next generation begin?

You could be forgiven for thinking that a hefty schools reform plan and a tax on sugary drinks fit the bill. The Government has said it wants to improve children’s life chances, and education and health are key to achieving this. But the focus on school age children is too little too late.

There is overwhelming evidence to underline why the early years should be the starting point for improving life chances. This ranges from rapid brain development in the first two years, to early communication as the springboard for good literacy skills.

It makes sense that giving children the best start in life provides the building blocks for their futures. A child’s ability to learn, form relationships and enjoy good health in their earliest years is a result of their interactions and the nurture they have received to help them grow. In turn, they will be better equipped as parents to create positive environments for their own children.

"Sadly, too many children fall behind in their first five years and face an uphill struggle to catch-up."

In the most deprived areas of England, three out of five children walk through the school gates on their first day not ready to learn. Despite this, funding of services that support good child development is falling.

Our recent report with the National Children's Bureau (NCB) and The Children’s Society, Losing in the long run, shows that central government funding for services like children’s centres is set to fall by 71 per cent between 2010 and 2020. This raises questions about how some local authorities can afford to provide support for children and families, even with all the will in the world.

Good quality childcare and early years education play an important role in a child’s early development, but parents are a child’s first educator and more must be done to support parents’ understanding of this role and activities at home. In January, the Prime Minister has said that he wants to invest in support for parents - a welcome announcement but we are yet to see if the talk will be backed up with any hard cash.  

The Child Poverty and Social Mobility Commission has recommended that the Government ends the strategic vacuum in the early years by introducing the objective to halve the development gap between the poorest children and the rest at age five by 2025. At Action for Children we support this ambition, and we want to work with the Government and others to make it a reality.

If the Government truly wants to improve children’s life chances then they must make sure more children are ready by the time they reach the school gates. 

Join the conversation.

Find out how you can become a campaigner, stay up to date with our latest tweets and join in the discussion on our blog.