A new focus on the under-fives, though welcome, will not reduce inequality unless we deal with parents' problems too, says an Observer editorial.
"What parents do is ultimately more important than who parents are," states a new paper published by the liberal thinktank CentreForum. The paper, Parenting Matters: Early Years and Social Mobility, reinforces the message already spelled out by Labour MPs Graham Allen and Frank Field and endorsed by the coalition government.
Parenting Matters points to successful programs in Sweden and New Zealand that strive to make peer-to-peer parenting support the norm. In the UK, parenting courses are too often either seen as an invasion of privacy by the nanny state or stigmatized.
Parenting Matters proposes a universal campaign to counteract this. Drawing on research from neuroscience that reveals that the mind has remarkable plasticity: a baby's brain literally grows the greater the positive stimuli.
The approach is imaginative and deserves support – but with reservations, writes the Observer.
"Stalled social mobility is certainly proving to be a particularly British disease. Social mobility in the UK is worse than in most other western countries."
According to government research, income inequality is at its highest level since 1961. Failure to improve social mobility could cost the UK economy as much as £140bn each year by 2050 in wasted child potential.
The paper argues that, "families are the factories of skill development" in children. However, contrary to what the paper states, what parents do is influenced by who they are.
To be truly effective, writes the Observer, teaching good parenting must be backed up by dismantling the barriers that many adults have to overcome while rearing their sons and daughters. Poverty, joblessness, lack of qualifications and poor housing – more than 7m homes in 2008 were classed as "non decent" – combine to impede the most determined of parents.
Good parenting requires confidence, sufficient self-esteem and a belief that what you do matters, says the editorial. These are capabilities that are infinitely harder to cultivate when personal circumstances are tough and the community of which you are a part is depleted. And likely to be even more depleted as the cuts bite deeper.
While an innovative parenting campaign is a positive step, it does not replace the government's urgent need to address the wider societal ills that prevent too many parents doing the very best they can by their children, writes the Observer.