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Throughout its argument for deficit reduction and the resulting public sector cuts, the Coalition Government has often defended its actions through questioning our responsibility to upcoming generations, upon whom it would be unfair for our debt to fall. Those in favour might indeed view the safeguarding of the country’s finances as a backbone to the future prospects of our youngest citizens, but if demographic and societal research is to be taken into account, ministers would also do well to appreciate that the many challenges facing poorer families are far more complex.
This week has seen the publication of findings from the third year of the longitudinal research study ‘Growing up in Scotland’, which explores the many challenges communities faces in delivering sound early years education to children from differing social backgrounds. The study’s findings show clear ground between, for example, the vocabulary of children in affluent families compared to poorer ones, confirms that healthy eating patterns are ‘heavily patterned by socio-demographic factors’, while also revealing that the number of families who depend upon childcare in Scotland is growing due to social circumstance, for example due to less contribution from grandparental care.
Scotland is not alone in having to face up to these problems, with demographic experts agreeing that all UK regions face similar challenges, even if some experience the gap between rich and poor, or the young and elderly, more sharply. Television viewers might have seen the BBC documentary, ‘Poor Kids’, which aired on Tuesday night and contained first-hand accounts of young people growing up beneath the poverty line in suburban areas like Leicester, Glasgow and Bradford. The programme revealed many of the sad realities children face growing up in a society that now has a wider gap between rich and poor than at any time since the Second World War, which means poorer children are now twice as likely to suffer chronic illness or malnutrition than those from affluent families, with divorce figures amongst families below the poverty line also twice as high. Indeed, ‘gap’ seems too gentle a word for what would better be viewed as a chasm if we ever hope to turn the tide on these escalating issues.
Other alarming statistics released this week show that the UK is now behind almost all its European neighbours in providing opportunities for poorer children, suffering from a rising number of homes being declared unfit to live in, from a lack of safe outdoor play areas and declining literacy rates. These findings are further supported by an ‘Excellence in English’ report from education regulator Ofsted, which concluded most UK children find their English curriculum to be ‘dull and uninspiring.
The role that nurseries have to play in tackling these mounting issues is second only to parenting itself, contributing to child learning during what psychologists believe to be the most influential years of growth and development.