Social Mobility and Child Poverty
Posted by George Dugdale
7 Apr 2011
This week has seen the release of two major Government policy strategies, which focus on improving the life chances of children across the UK and aim to improve social mobility in the UK. Released by senior ministers on consecutive days “Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A strategy for social mobility” and “A New Approach to Child Poverty: Tackling the causes of disadvantage and transforming lives”, go a long way to setting out what literacy policy makers, particularly in the early years can expect from the coalition government.
Three key messages jump out from both reports. The first is that the excellent work of Frank Field MP, Graham Allen MP and Dame Clare Tickell has not been in vain; the Coalition Government clearly values these three reports and has taken their recommendations on board Consistent mentions of all three reports throughout the two strategies attest to this. This is particularly true with regard to the importance of early intervention; the need to include and support parents, especially those on low incomes; and the need for a more sophisticated metric to measure child poverty.
The second is the promising realisation that early years support is central to any successful anti-poverty or social mobility strategy. The social mobility report states that “poorer children do worse across a range of outcomes” including “communication, language and literacy skills” and continues to announce a “doubling [of] the capacity of the Family Nurse Partnership and recruitment of an additional 4,200 health visitors”. Despite much of the focus being on welfare changes, the child poverty strategy also mentions the Family Nurse Partnership and the importance of the early years as key indicators of educational development.
The final message is that there is a great deal of nervousness in Government about how to influence family behaviour. The child poverty strategy states “promoting good parenting is not primarily a job for the Government” while the social mobility strategy says “people do not want Government telling them how to raise their children". Both reports go on to use the same wording to say the Government will work with “a broad-based alliance of interested groups, charities, employers and foundations” in a consortium.
The message that Government should not tell people how to live their lives is understandable, and it is promising that the Government plans to work with a broad base of experts to take this work forward. In addition to more health visitors and Department for Education grants for voluntary and community organisations, it is clear that some excellent work will continue. However, there is no detail on how the Government plans to work with this “broad-based alliance” and the current economic climate suggests that however it does work, funding will be extremely thin on the ground. A promised upcoming policy statement on the foundation years may answer some of this uncertainty, and the National Literacy Trust will be following any announcements closely.
From a literacy perspective this week’s reports are on the whole very promising. The National Literacy Trust is particularly delighted to see continued use of the three reviews mentioned above, and is also pleased that the absolute centrality of early years work has been recognised. The strength of evidence in this area is very strong and it has been a long battle to have the importance of the early years fully recognised, a battle that we now hope has been won.
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