Improving social mobility starts at home

Posted by Sam Reeve / Tuesday 01 November 2016 / Public Affairs Inequality

As the House of Lords debated social mobility, there was welcome recognition that we need to give all children the possible start – and that begins at home.

The Prime Minister's aspiration is to “ everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you”. But, on the day they walk into school, one in two children from the poorest families will not be ready. And children who start behind their peers are more likely to stay behind, throughout their schooling and into later life. 

"The best way to raise standards with some of our children in some of the most challenging schools from the most challenging backgrounds is to reduce the development gap between children when they start school. I very much hope that the Minister might consider adopting that as a target and working toward achieving it."

Baroness Morris of Yardley, Social Mobility Debate, 27 October 2016 

The evidence for this is strong. Today, we understand better than ever the long-term impact that child development has on health, educational attainment, emotional wellbeing, employment prospects and relationships into adulthood. 


Children will spend 70% of their time at home before the age of five, so it needs to be a good place to grow up, explore and learn. 


In a welcome debate in Parliament last week, members of the House of Lords recognised that the earliest years must be central to any approach on social mobility. But if we want to make sure that children aren’t left behind, and if we are serious about closing the all-important gaps between disadvantaged children and their better-off peers, the Government must make sure that all children have the opportunity to start school on the best footing.

Fair by five logo

At home is where we have the earliest chance to improve children’s development. We can work with parents to help them understand their crucial role, and the easy ways they can help their children to develop – from talking about the sights and sounds on a trip to the shops, to encouraging them to be curious about textures and shapes. We can also help parents to develop a bedtime routine or deal with emotional outbursts. For some families, our help extends to managing money, relationship problems or substance misuse. In all of these case, our own aim is clear – to make home a good place to grow up.

To achieve her ambition, the Prime Minister must be brave and grasp the nettle. It is not easy for any government to pay attention to what happens at home. But it’s where children under five spend the majority of their time, it’s where they will grow into adults and it’s where we can break the cycle of poor development leading to poor social mobility.

Closing the gaps for children from disadvantaged backgrounds is without doubt an ambitious target. Improving support parents need to create a safe, healthy, and stimulating home would be a great starting point.