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A child’s early years are crucial for their development and future prospects. Unfortunately, last year over 185,000 5-year-olds began school without the necessary literacy, communication, and language skills required to thrive. This lack of a solid foundation not only hampers their learning, confidence, and well-being during their early school days, but also significantly increases their likelihood of struggling with GCSEs and facing unemployment in their 30s.

Children living in poverty are particularly affected by this issue, as their limited resources, lack of information, and reduced confidence hinder the creation of a stimulating and engaging environment necessary for the development of essential communication, language, and literacy skills. Furthermore, lower-income parents may have less confidence in their own literacy skills and face challenges juggling competing time pressures.

The long-term consequences of low literacy are significant. Recent research commissioned by KPMG UK, in collaboration with the National Literacy Trust and conducted by Pro Bono Economics (PBE), has identified approximately 106,000 five-year-olds in England who, with early support, could have achieved the expected level of literacy but fell short. Among these children, two-fifths, or 43,000, reside in deprived areas. It is anticipated that this number has increased due to the closure of early years settings during the pandemic and the subsequent cost of living crisis.The PBE report estimates that the inadequate literacy skills support provided to these 106,000 five-year-olds will generate economic costs of around £830 million over their lifetimes, averaging £7,800 per child.

Recent data from the year 2022-2023 indicates that 30% of five-year-olds in England, or approximately 187,000 children, are falling behind their expected reading levels, compared to 27% in 2018-2019. The pandemic and the subsequent cost of living crisis have further exacerbated the challenges faced by families in accessing appropriate early years support. A significant proportion of these children, roughly two-fifths, reside in impoverished areas.

The lockdown measures implemented during the pandemic deprived families of access to essential care and education during critical stages of their children’s development. The research highlights that poor literacy skills among children will ultimately cost the economy £830 million over the lifetimes of each year group’s development. This research coincides with the launch of the National Literacy Trust’s new campaign, “Early Words Matter.

A child’s background should not be a wall to climb for opportunity.

Love Eliza x