British children are losing out on chances in life because their mothers and fathers have abandoned the traditional “tough love” approach to parenting, an influential MP has said.

Labour backbencher Frank Field, who has been commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron to lead a review into poverty and life chances, said that a failure to lay down clear boundaries for behaviour, particularly in poorer households, made children less likely to thrive.

He warned that the life chances of most poorer children are decided by the time they reach five years of age. And he said his report, due in December, will urge the Government to make support during the crucial first years of a child’s life its priority and to undertake “a radical overhaul of a whole sweep of early-years policies”.

Mr Field issued a plea for early-years support to be spared the axe in Chancellor George Osborne’s spending review on October 20.

And he made clear that he would prefer to see cash benefits for poorer families be restricted rather than services for young children cut. A £1.2 billion increase in child tax credit announced by Mr Osborne in June could have paid for a doubling in the work of children’s centres, he said.

In comments released ahead of a lecture in Canterbury on Thursday, Mr Field argued that financial support for disadvantaged families is a “blunt and inadequate weapon” without support for parenting of the kind the centres provide.

He said his report worked from the assumption that “the commitment of adults to parenting has significantly changed over the past 50 years or so”.

“An increasing number of British parents have moved from the tried and tested ‘tough love’ approach to parenting to more informal and casual arrangements,” said Mr Field. “The losers from this move have been children, and particularly poorer children.

“A number of research reports show that children are more likely to thrive if they come from homes where parents lay down clear boundaries for behaviour but who, within these boundaries, nurture their children with love, affection and interest. What might seem to some people little-valued activities, such as reading with their child and talking with them to improve their vocabulary, pays huge dividends when their children start school.”

Mr Field said it was “distressing, not to say horrifying” that it was possible by the age of five to predict accurately how much children will have achieved by the time they are in their 20s. Inequality in cognitive, social, emotional and physical skills at five “determines life’s outcomes”, and action to tackle poverty must be targeted at improving acquisition of these abilities in the crucial early years, he said.

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Source: The Press Association –