Labour MP Dan Jarvis explains why his Bill which seeks to reduce child poverty and to introduce steps to measure how well the Government are performing in achieving their targets, cannot afford to wait to be passed.
A childhood that is safe, supportive, warm, healthy and nurturing, with the prospect of a bright future ahead, should be the right of every child, not just a luxury for some. No child should have to endure the hardship and limited opportunities that a childhood lived in poverty represents. And yet, for the 3.9 million children in the UK living in poverty, that is the reality.
Poverty doesn’t just affect children’s lives now, it also affects their futures. Whether or not a child gets off to a good start in life heavily determines what the rest of it is likely to be like and the chances they will have. For those born into poverty, it is hard to climb out of it.
We know that poverty has a negative impact on a children’s development in their earliest years. New figures from Save the Children reveal that in my constituency last year more than 200 children fell behind in crucial early language skills before they had even started school – and that group is disproportionately made up of children from poor households.
Imagine what it must be like starting school without having mastered the basic language skills in order to construct full sentences or understand simple instructions, particularly when your peers around you have. That is the reality for the one in three children living in poverty across England who start school having failed to meet the expected standards in speech and language skills. They’re arriving at school at an immense disadvantage and it’s no surprise that they struggle to catch up.
Save the Children’s report also identifies that whilst children from the poorest backgrounds are those most likely to fall behind, it is the poorest boys specifically who are more risk, with nearly 40% failing to meet the expected standard in early language nationally – nearly twice the average. That is a damming statistic and paints a concerning picture of more and more of our poorest boys being left behind.
Stopping these children from falling behind will require the Government to be bolder in their approach to tackling the root causes of child poverty and putting the policies in place to support the most disadvantaged children from their earliest years.
I recently produced a report on child poverty in my constituency which identifies the need to learn as one of five basic needs in order for children to thrive. I believe that parents have a fundamental role to play and that shouldn’t be underestimated – especially in the earliest years. There is also the potential to look to the fantastic work that the staff who work in our childcare and early education settings do, and the role that they can play in supporting parents with their children’s learning at home. In fact, the evidence is clear that high quality childcare, led by well-qualified staff can have an enormous impact on a child’s early development, and can go a long way towards closing the gaps so that the poorest children are starting school with a fair chance.
I am currently bringing forward a Bill in Parliament that will seek to legislate for a target to reduce child poverty and to introduce steps to measure how well the Government is performing in achieving that target.
On the steps of Downing Street last week the new Prime Minister Theresa May spoke of “fighting against the burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier than others”. I hope that the new Prime Minister matches those words with action.
The children living in poverty across our country cannot afford any delay. It is their future that we are fighting for.
Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central.