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UK Poverty

Every child deserves a good start

Across the UK, too many very young children are not getting the support they need to learn and develop to their full potential.

The odds are stacked against children who struggle under the age of 5 - and many won’t ever catch up.

We’re working to give children in the UK a better chance of a big future. We want all young children to be supported to learn and develop – whether at home, in schools, in nurseries and childcare, or in communities.

High-quality early education and childcare makes a vital difference to early learning, and benefits the UK’s poorest children most. We’re calling on the governments in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to invest in creating world-class early education and childcare systems in each country.


Girl at school in England

More than 250,000 children in England start school behind in their development, with the poorest children twice as likely to do so.

The early years of a child’s life are vital. Evidence shows going to a good-quality nursery can safeguard against falling behind. Save the Children’s goal is to see an ambitious new plan for childcare in the next parliament.

All nurseries should be high quality, parents must clearly know what support they can get, and there should be extra help with costs for those who need it the most.

Our little ones deserve a better start in life – and families, struggling to do their best, deserve better support.

Boy in Northern Ireland

One child in four children in Northern Ireland lives in poverty.

Children struggling with early language skills are about 40% less likely to have good reading skills at age 7 and 80% less likely to have good comprehension skills by age 11.

We are calling for:

1. Pre-school and childcare services to be led by graduates – who can  support children at risk of falling behind

2. Tracking young children’s outcomes to better understand their progress

3. Early education and childcare services that help strengthen parents’ and families’ skills to support their children’s early learning at home.

Girl at school in Scotland

The poorest children struggle the most with speech and language development – they are twice as likely to start school behind.

We’re calling for a greater focus on early learning, especially for those most likely to struggle, because of its impact on childhood and later life chances, including;

1. A clear focus on strengthening the quality of early learning provision

2. Investment in the early years workforce

3. Advice and investment for settings

4. Evidence-based poverty awareness and understanding training 

We also want the Scottish government to improve support for parents to engage in their children’s early learning at home.

Girl in Wales

Many young children in Wales fall behind in their development before starting school. One in ten are behind in language ability by age 7; for children living in poverty, this doubles to one in five.  

We’re highlighting the scale of young children being left behind and the impact this has on their childhood and later life chances.

We’re calling on the Welsh Government to prioritise tackling the gap in early learning outcomes for young children by:

1. Investing further in the quality of the early education workforce

2. Strengthening support for parents by ensuring staff can support parents to engage in their children’s learning at home

3. Ensuring children living in poverty can access high quality early education and childcare.

Read the latest blogs on poverty

Our experts

Kayte Lawton

Head of UK Policy

Kayte’s team focuses on early child development, and the role of childcare and preschool education in tackling inequalities in children’s early learning and later life chances.

Kayte previously worked at the think tank IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research), where she led projects in social policy and public services, including on employment, low pay, fiscal policy and social reform. Kayte is an experienced media commentator and public speaker.

Jerome Finnegan

Research and Policy Adviser

Jerome’s work currently focuses on inequalities in children’s early development, and childcare and early education policy in the UK.

Previously, Jerome worked at the National Centre for Social Research, where he worked on mixed methods research projects and evaluations on a wide range of topics.

He has an MA from Goldsmiths, University of London and a BA from University College Dublin. His most recent publications include Untapped Potential and Lighting Up Young Brains

Vicky Crichton

Senior Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns Manager (Scotland)

Vicky joined Save the Children in January 2016 to lead our advocacy work in Scotland, which is currently focused on improving the quality of early learning and childcare, and supporting parental engagement in children’s learning.

Prior to this she worked in policy, advocacy and communications roles within Scottish Government, in adult learning and in the NHS, and spent seven years as Senior Public Affairs Manager for Cancer Research UK.

Vicky has a sound understanding of the political systems and contexts in Scotland, and across the UK, and has a strong track record in influencing policy and legislation, as well as experience of the inner workings of government policy-making.  

Claire Telfer

Head of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns for the Devolved Nations

Claire leads our policy, advocacy and campaigning across Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Her main themes of work are early child development, the role of childcare and preschool education in improving outcomes for children and tackling poverty and supporting parental engagement in children’s learning.

Claire has a strong track record in influencing policy and legislation on a range of children’s issues in a devolved context. She worked for Save the Children for over a decade in various roles in Scotland before taking up her current post in 2015. Claire is on the board of Together, the Scottish Alliance for children’s rights. She has an MSc in social policy from the University of Edinburgh.

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