New research shows the value of supporting pre-school language skills: it could boost the economy by £1.2bn

21 Jul 2021
Early years boy with book

Today, we are excited to share new research which shows that doing simple activities at home such as singing, painting or enjoying a bedtime story with pre-school children at risk of language difficulties could help to boost the economy by up to £1.2billion over the course of their lifetimes. The research was carried out by Pro Bono Economics and commissioned by KPMG UK in collaboration with ourselves and BBC Tiny Happy People.

“A child’s early language and communication skills are not just the foundation of their literacy, but influence a lifetime of social, emotional and economic outcomes as well.”

Jonathan Douglas CBE, CEO of the National Literacy Trust

We know that the skills that children acquire during the first years of their lives are so important, including children’s ability to speak and understand words – their language skills. In the UK, one in four children who struggle with language aged five do not reach the expected standard in English at the end of primary school.

The new report says 14% of three-year-olds in the UK (116,000 three-year-olds in the UK today) are at risk of starting school with “vulnerable” language skills which could hold them back later in life, increasing their likelihood of unemployment and reduced earnings.

The lifetime cost to the economy of failing to support these children could be up to £327million for each cohort of three-year-olds. This equates to £1.2bn across all pre-school children alive today who are, or may become, “at risk of vulnerable language skills”.

But doing one home learning activity a day, such as reading, with three-year-olds could lead to lifetime benefits, including increased earnings of up to £166m per cohort of three-year-olds, while two activities per day could pull them out of the ‘at-risk’ category altogether.

The study also found that the lifetime cost of not supporting a pre-school child in the ‘at-risk’ category would amount to around £2,800, with more than 95% of these costs likely to be in the form of decreased lifetime earnings for the children.

Thankfully, high quality learning activities at home, such as reading, playing with letters or singing songs, can make such a difference to improving early years language skills that they can reduce and even eradicate these costs.

“Those first years of our children’s lives are crucial, and it’s remarkable how relatively small activities can make a real difference to their life chances. With the pandemic disrupting too many children’s development, addressing the challenge of language and reading skills is essential in order to prevent short-term impacts becoming long-term problems.”

Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics, said:

“The education and development of children in their early years shapes their prospects in later life and, as our latest research makes clear, cumulatively it has a material impact on our economy. The pandemic has exacerbated the number of children showing poor early language skills, with those from disadvantaged backgrounds likely to have been disproportionately affected. If businesses are serious about improving social mobility

Bina Mehta, Chair of KPMG in the UK, said: