Not early enough, not nearly enough

Margaret Thatcher’s much loved trickle-down theory
-Êliberate the rich from heavy taxation so that lucre drips
through to those clinging to the bottom rung of the ladder
-Êdefinitively does not work. A special edition of the Office
of National Statistics annual Social Trends, published to celebrate
its 35th birthday, reveals that the poorest 10 per cent of
households earned £100 in 1971 while the richest tenth earned
around £320.

By 2002-3, the household incomes of the poorest were still under
£170 a week while those of the richest had increased to
£670 -Êa £500 difference and still growing. Much of
the growth in inequality occurred during the Thatcher era. Now, the
early years provides at least one opportunity to help close that
gap. But a report by the Social Market Foundation, Too Much Too
Late: Chances and Spending on Education and Training, by Vidhya
Alakeson, tells us that the UK invests almost three times as much
in students in higher education than it does in children under

Alakeson points to research by London University’s Institute of
Education that says that as early 22 months, children are set on
developmental paths – strongly linked to socio-economic background
– which predict later educational attainment, or the lack of

The Labour government has invested sums which, initially, appear
huge, in an effort to close the gap. At the recent annual
conference for 4Children, the charity which supports policy and
practice for child care and out of school activities, the
children’s minister Margaret Hodge said that by 2007, if Labour is
elected, investment in early years education and child care will
rise to more than £4bn. She went on to say that three years of
high quality education puts a child, by the age of seven, almost a
year ahead of its peers who do not attend nursery .

The return on investment is becoming more apparent by the day
but rather than rob higher education students to support the young,
a substantial overall increase is required for schools and early
years. Last year, 4Children calculated that a budget of £10bn
a year was required to adequately meet current requirements.
If we genuinely want to close the inequality gap – and there are
selfish as well as altruistic reasons, including the principle of
social justice to say that we should – then let the politicians be
honest: Labour’s budget for 2007 is only a fraction of what’s
required. They need to start making the case for more -Ênow.
Voters will listen.


More from Community Care

Comments are closed.