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Changing the odds in the early years

A discussion paper on tackling poverty in the early years

The lasting impact and cost of poverty in the early years

A child’s early years of life are vitally important. This is a time a child’s brain grows and changes rapidly, making young children especially sensitive to environmental influences. Early childhood is particularly critical because that is when the family context dominates children’s everyday lives, a context that is significantly affected by socioeconomic status. Being part of a poor family means children are more likely than their peers to face problems with health, educational achievement, emotional wellbeing and life chances.

International studies show that when a baby’s development falls behind the norm during the first year of life, it is then much more likely to fall even further behind in subsequent years, than to catch up with those who have had a better start (Leadsom et al 2014).

Living in poverty has a serious impact on children’s lives, negatively affecting their educational attainment, health, and happiness as well as having long-term adverse consequences into adulthood (Dickerson and Popli, 2012).

Even a few years of poverty can have negative consequences for a child’s development and is especially harmful from the ages of birth to five. Research indicates that being poor at both nine months and three years is associated with increased likelihood of poor behavioural, learning and health outcomes at age five (Magnuson, 2013). By the age of four, a development gap of more than year and a half can be seen between the most disadvantaged and the most advantaged children (Sutton Trust, 2012).

Increasing the focused interventions at an early stage can have a positive impact for children and society (DfE, 2013a).