The government has launched a series of measures to give everyone in the UK a fair chance of succeeding in life. The New Opportunities white paper, unveiled today, looks to narrow the gap between the rich and poor and improve social mobility for children born into disadvantaged families.
The paper focuses on key points in a person’s life, including early years, education and the transition into employment. There are plans to inject £57m into free childcare places for two year olds from disadvantaged families, and all vulnerable pregnant mothers will have access to a family nurse throughout pregnancy and for the first two years.
Other measures include full-time volunteering programmes for the unemployed in 33 local authorities, and an employment support programme for young people leaving care. The government also plans support parents and carers, offering them a £500 back to work training entitlement.
The white paper follows yesterday’s report from the Liberal Democrats’ Independent Social Mobility Commission, which found that a child’s opportunities in life still depend on their background and their parents’ earnings despite massive increases in education funding under Labour.
Class dictates attainment
The commission, chaired by Barnardo’s chief executive Martin Narey, found that social class largely dictates a child’s level of educational attainment. According to the report, government schemes to improve education have failed to reach children most in need, who remain disadvantaged throughout education and into employment.
Narey said: “Children from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds all too often end up in the worst schools and achieve the worst results.”
Last year, 63% of pupils from wealthier backgrounds obtained five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, compared with 35% of the poorest children. The gap between rich and poor continues into higher education, where the proportion of better-off students gaining degrees rose by 26% from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, while the increase among poorer children was just 3%.
According to the commission, resources should be targeted towards schools with the most disadvantaged children and better incentives offered to get teachers into the most difficult schools.
Clegg rejects 10p call
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said he agreed with most of the recommendations, but rejected the commission’s call to scrap the government’s rescue package for people affected by the removal of the 10p income tax band.
Last May, the government announced a £120 tax rebate for 2008-9 for people on the basic 20p rate of income tax at a cost of £2.7m. In November’s pre-budget report, chancellor Alistair Darling said the rebate – achieved through a £600 increase in tax allowances – would be made permanent.
However, the commission claimed that the rescue package had “virtually no impact” on child poverty and called for £2.7m to be redirected towards meeting the government’s target of halving child poverty by 2010.
Clegg said: “This expert analysis shatters the idea that Britain in 2009 is a free and fair society. It is an outrage that two children born at the same time in the same hospital should have wildly different life chances, based simply on the income of their parents.”
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