THE Government’s policy to expand free childcare to two-year-olds will not undo the damage done to poorer families by changes to the benefits system and the introduction of the two-child limit on benefit claims, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has said.
In a debate initiated and led by Bishop Treweek in the House of Lords, she asked the Government what analysis it had done of the impact of its benefit changes on children’s future life chances.
“The experiences we have as children — and, in particular, as young children — shape the rest of our lives. A child’s development score at just 22 months can serve as an accurate predictor of educational outcomes at 26 years.”
Despite the widely recognised benefits of early intervention, the Children’s Society believes that local-authority spending on programmes for children and young people has fallen by 49 per cent since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. There have been falls in the number of health visitors and in spending on speech and language therapy, even though children with poorer language skills at three years old are three times more likely to have mental-health problems and twice as likely to become unemployed in adult life.
More free childcare in pre-schools and other childcare settings improved children’s outcomes only if was high quality, and it often did not reach the most needy and at risk families, Bishop Treweek said.
“Simply expanding both entitlement to free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds and the number of free hours that older children are entitled to is unlikely to counteract the effect of benefit changes and the two-child limit. To put it simply: incentivising single mothers to work is not a panacea for their child’s development,” she said.
She urged the Government to publish a joined-up early-years strategy as part of its plan to “level up Britain”.
“We are talking about investment in the start of life, which affects the long-term well-being of individuals, families, households, communities, our country, and beyond.”
The Government’s spokeswoman in the Lords, Baroness Berridge, said that the Government sought to achieve a “co-ordinated approach” to early intervention, and that, although widening early education was not a “panacea”, it did support children’s early development.