Unicef: Poorer children face ‘double disadvantage’ in early years

Children born into poverty in England face a “double disadvantage” as the early years services they receive are likely to be of low quality, a Unicef report warns today.

However, some of its findings have been questioned by children’s charity 4Children.

The report looked at early years care and education across 25 developed countries. England failed half of the ten standards, and was ranked in joint 11th place.

David Bull, executive director of Unicef UK, said: “The government has taken great strides but much more needs to be done. High-quality childcare is not yet available to all, and parental leave provisions remain inadequate.”

New opportunities for mothers

The report highlighted a sharp increase in the number of children under the age of one who received childcare outside the home, reflecting the new opportunities for working mothers and the increasingly formal nature of childcare provision.

However the report warned that it was the poorest families that were most pressured to make out-of-home childcare arrangements, but did not have the funds to secure high-quality care.

Expenditure on pre-school education in England has quadrupled in the last ten years, and the government has committed to a children’s centre in every community, with 3,000 in place by this year.

Failed to meet GDP target

But England still failed to meet the Unicef benchmark of investing 1% of GDP in early years services, the report said.

However, Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, questioned these figures. The children’s charity last year found government early years spending to be at 1% of GDP, and called for it to be doubled.

Longfield also suggested that the impact of children’s centres had been overlooked by Unicef. She said: “Children’s centres are spearheading innovative and progressive support and providing universal access to fantastic services.”

Glass half-full

Commenting on England’s low ranking in the report, she said: “We see the glass as half-full. We must recognise the gains that have been made – children’s services are a work in progress.”

The Unicef report found England to be lacking in providing parental leave, adequate staff to children ratios for four and five-year-olds and child health services for all, and also criticised child poverty levels.

England met five standards including a national poverty plan, subsidised childcare and education services and high levels of trained and qualified childcare staff.

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