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Children are being 'failed on a grand scale'

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Smith, Rebecca
Publication Date: 
21 Feb 2012



Children are being 'failed on a grand scale', due to poor standards of literacy and huge inequalities which have left Britain lagging behind other European countries when we should be number one, the author of a landmark report claims Prof Sir Michael Marmot, on the second anniversary of his major review into how wealth affects health, disclosed that four in ten children are failing
to master the basic skills expected of a five year-old.

The number of failing pupils in poorer areas is almost double the number in
wealthier suburban parts of the country meaning children's lives are being
'blighted' from an early age by inequality, Sir Michael, Director of
University College London, Institute of Health Equity, said.

Britain lags behind other countries including Poland, Hungary, Denmark and
Finland, in the gap between the children who do best and those who do worst,
he said.

Children are judged to be failing to achieve a good level of development if
they are unable to dress themselves, take turns in a conversation, knows
some of the alphabet, can read simple sentences and can count to ten.

Sir Michael criticised cuts being made to children's services such as Sure
Start because those who are at a disadvantage from an early age grow up
lagging behind their peers.

He said: "How can it possibly be the case that 41 per cent of children
across the country are thought not to have a good level of child

"We do really really badly on international comparisons. This is a brainy
country, why aren't we number one?

"We’ve got these huge inequalities which means that we are failing our
children on a grand scale. It matters to their health. It matters to their
wellbeing. It matters to the productivity of the country and it matters to
the sort of society we want."

Sir Michael released new figures showing the number of five year old children
classed as having a 'good level of development' at age five has increased

In 2010 around 56 per cent of five year olds were classed as having a good
level of development and this increased to 59 per cent in 2011.

This was a 'marginal' improvement, Sir Michael said.

Children in traditionally affluent areas did better on the score, with seven
in ten classed as having a good level of development in Rutland and Richmond
in 2011. Both had improved on the 2010 scores.

Where as at the bottom of the scale, only five in ten five-year-olds in
Blackpool achieved the 'good' development score in 2011 which had hardly
changed on the 2010 level.

Sir Michael was speaking on the second anniversary of his review, Fair
Society, Healthy Lives, which set out areas of public policy that need to be
prioritised to reduce inequalities in society and in particular health.

Sir Michael, one of the foremost public health experts in the country, was
appointed as an adviser to the Labour government and his research has helped
shape the coalition's public health strategy.

More than 3,600 Sure Start children's centres were open by the time Labour
left office in a drive to provide childcare and early years education
services, as well as health and parenting advice, to some of the most
disadvantaged families in England.

Before the election, David Cameron said he supported Sure Start but funding
cuts have led to the closer of 124 children's centres since the coalition
came to power.

He said it was vitally important that parents of young children play with them
and read to them from an early age to encourage their development. Where
that was not possible, someone else should read to them rather than they not
be read to at all, he said.

Sir Michael said cuts to children's services such as Sure Start were a 'deep

The Government confirmed in November that there are now 124 fewer Sure Start
centres for children than there were when the coalition formed, but said
many of the reductions were due to services being "streamlined".

Sir Michael said: "If the evaluation of Sure Start was ambiguous then the
response should not be to throw it out but to learn from the best. I have
great concern that we must not cut services for early childhood."

He said the inequalities in the start children have in life follows through to
their teenage years where they are more likely to be classed as a NEET, or
not in employment, education or training.

“My view of NEET is two fold. One is the way to avoid NEET is to invest in
early child development because it’s the kids who have poor early child
development – who do poorly in school – who end up not in education,
employment or training.

“So one view is invest in early childhood and the other is make sure we invest
in educational training for potential school-leavers.

"It blights their futures and hence their subsequent health," he

Sir Michael also highlighted life expectancy, saying that while there had been
a four month increase in life expectancy across the board to reach 78.6 for
men and 82.6 for women in the years 2008/10.

But this masked the fact that the differences in life expectancy had increased
for men and not changed for women, despite narrowing the gap between rich
and poor stated as a key objective for successive Governments.

The gap between the highest and lowest life expectancy increased in 104
council areas for men and 92 for women, he said.

Sir Michael said some areas such as Hackney had a uniformly bad life
expectancy for men with an average of 77 while other areas such as
Westminster had a higher average life expectancy at 84 but had a range of
almost 17 years.

The picture was similar for women.

-reprinted from the Telegraph