Poverty shown to damage ability in two-year-olds

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The Independent Online
POVERTY DAMAGES a child's chances in life before they reach the age of two. Research has shown that those born into the lower social classes perform much worse in educational and development tests at 22 months than those in the top social classes.

The findings, released yesterday in a Treasury report,Tackling Poverty and Extending Opportunity, show children in the top social classes perform 14 per cent better than those in the manual and semi-manual classes. These differences continue to widen when the children start school.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said: "When we came to power we found that two children in five are born poor and are growing up in poverty. Their lives are damaged by low incomes before their life's journey has even begun." Mr Brown said the Government was committed to eliminating inequalities and poverty, defined as living off half the average wage. Initiatives such as the introduction of the minimum wage, increases in child benefit and tax credits for families would lift 700,000 children out of poverty, he said.

"[Inequality] is bad economically and does even greater damage to society. We are determined to create more opportunities which will ensure that people are given the life chances, the education and skills they need to find jobs and break the cycle."

The six-month study showed that the gap between the rich and poor in the UK has widened sharply in the last 20 years, a trend that is unique in Europe. Inequalities in Ireland, Italy, Portugal, France, Germany and Holland have been reduced or kept stable. The figures show 12 million people, or a quarter of the population, are now living in poverty. Four million of these people are children. This figure is three times the number in 1979.

Although people in the top income bracket have seen their wages double in the last 20 years, those in the lowest fifth of the population have seen a mere 15 per cent rise.

The poor are less likely to become educated and move out of the cycle of unemployment and menial jobs. A child's chance of ending up in the top-earning quarter of the population was four times higher if their father's income was in the top quarter. Nearly two thirds of people living in poverty came from families where no-one worked. The number of workless households has more than doubled in the last 20 years.