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Early years experts call on government to act on child poverty in the early years

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Saturday, 11 May, 2019

At Early Education’s Annual National Conference on Saturday 11 May, speakers discussed young children’s experiences of poverty and how the sector can try to mitigate these.  They also called on government to make greater efforts to focus on prevention rather than mitigation and redouble its efforts to reduce child poverty. 

The conference heard how Early Education’s members and others across the early years sector deal with the impact poverty has on children and families on a daily basis and that Early Education had launched a survey to ascertain the ways in which early years providers are making a difference families in challenging times through projects ranging from providing food and clothing, to supporting parents with benefits claims and help in finding employment.

According to the Household Below Average Income data for 2017/18, absolute poverty has risen by 200,000 to 3.7 million children, while relative Child Poverty remains at 4.1 million.  53% of children in poverty are under 5, up from 51% in the previous year.  The number of poor children in working families has risen from 67 per cent to 70 per cent.  According to the JRF, almost all families with children would benefit if the Chancellor opted to end the freeze on benefits and tax credits one year early, with the greatest gains going to 3.2 million children living in low-income working families.  Without changes to the benefit system, poverty is forecast to rise: the Resolution Foundation predicts a rise in child poverty to record levels of up to 37% by 2023/24 from current figures – meaning 5.2 million children could be left in poverty.  The government’s policy of supporting parents into work is failing to target the poorest families: as the Social Mobility Commission point out, only half of families on incomes below £20,000 using the 30 hours offer feel they have benefitted from it in terms of disposable income, compared to 85% of families with incomes above £45,000.

Early Education President, Professor Cathy Nutbrown, said:

“The rising levels of poverty in the UK, particularly among our youngest children, are a national scandal.  We know that poverty has direct impact on children’s health and all round development, physical, emotional and cognitive, with lasting impact on their future life chances.  High quality early education can help to mitigate against some of these effects, but it can only address the symptoms, not cure the underlying problem.  Investment in early intervention initiatives will be less successful if the children involved are hungry. If government is serious about improving social mobility, it needs to tackle the root causes of child poverty. 

“In the meantime, it needs to ensure that early years providers on the frontline of supporting children and families in poverty are properly resourced.  For example, why is it that all children in Reception and Key Stage 1 receive free school meals, but even the most disadvantaged nursery age children are only eligible for meals if they are in a school nursery for a full day, but not if they take their entitlement elsewhere in the sector or for half days only?  Why is early years pupil premium only a third of the rate of pupil premium in schools?”

Sharon Hogan and Andrea Layzell from Bradford shared how the culture and systems within a school or setting can support both the early identification and support for some of the most vulnerable children and families. They commented:

“Platitudes about making a difference and narrowing the gap have been used for some time, but these haven’t led to improvements.  In fact, things have become worse.   As a consequence the diligence and commitment of staff working in the early years has become more important than ever.”

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Contact for further enquiries

For further information please contact Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive, Early Education (07712 398672) or


Notes to editors: 

Early Education (The British Association for Early Childhood Education) is the leading independent national charity for early years practitioners and parents, campaigning for the right of all children to education of the highest quality. Founded in 1923, it has members in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and provides a national voice on matters that relate to effective early childhood education and care of young children from birth to eight. The organisation supports the professional development of practitioners through publications, training, conferences, seminars and access to a national and regional branch network. For more information on the work of Early Education visit