Prioritising early childhood for a happier, healthier society

early years education image

The Royal Foundation Business Taskforce for Early Childhood has published a report setting out the business case for prioritising early childhood.

The report, Prioritising early childhood for a happier, healthier society, has been produced by Deloitte on behalf of the Taskforce and sets out the huge scale of opportunity for business to drive, and benefit from, prioritising early childhood in the workplace, community and wider society.

It details how investing in early childhood could generate at least £45.5 billion in value added for the national economy each year. This includes £12.2bn from equipping people with improved social and emotional skills in early childhood, £16.1bn from reducing the need to spend public funds on remedial steps for adverse childhood experiences, and £17.2bn from supporting parents and caregivers of under-fives who work.

A number of new initiatives have been announced, including funding for early years apprenticeships and leadership programmes, increased support for baby banks, and creating welcoming spaces for families with young children.

The Taskforce was established in March 2023 by The Princess of Wales to galvanise business action on early childhood. Since then, Taskforce members Aviva, The Co-operative Group, Deloitte, Iceland Foods, IKEA UK and Ireland, The LEGO Group, NatWest Group and Unilever UK, have worked together to identify the scale of the opportunity and the role that business can play.

As part of the ‘first tranche of action’, taskforce members have committed to the following:

  • The Co-operative Group has created an early childhood fund as part of its apprenticeship levy share scheme, committing to raising £5 million over the next five years and creating more than 600 apprenticeships. NatWest Group, Unilever UK, Ikea UK and Ireland, and Iceland Foods have joined The Co-op in sharing a combined £1million over the next 12 months.
  • Deloitte is focusing its ongoing investment in Teach First to include the early years sector for the first time, supporting 366 early years professionals in 2024.
  • NatWest Group is extending its lending target for the childcare sector to £100 million, launching an early years accreditation scheme to its staff and producing a financial toolkit for childcare providers to help them grow and succeed.
  • IKEA UK and Ireland is expanding its contribution of support, design expertise and products for babies and young children to six new locations across the UK to help families with young children experiencing the greatest disadvantage and The Co-operative group is supporting the Baby Bank Alliance by promoting its work to its five million member-owners. 
  • The LEGO Group is donating 3,000 LEGO® Education Build Me “Emotions” sets, supported by training materials, to early years providers in the UK, helping children to explore emotions in a fun and engaging way.
  • Iceland Foods is providing learning, awareness and support in all 1,000 Iceland and The Food Warehouse stores by featuring emoji posters at a child friendly height – a practical tool to help customers with young children and to create a space of understanding and support in stores.

A joint statement from eight founding CEOs calls on “businesses of all sizes, across the UK, to join us and help build a healthy, happy society for everyone.”

Christian Guy, Executive Director of The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood said:

“Today marks another milestone moment in our work to make early childhood a priority across society. Some of the most significant businesses in Britain have joined forces to deliver a major rallying call to their fellow business leaders to prioritise young children and those who care for them – for the good of our society and economy.

“Whether it is helping families access the support they need, prioritising the social and emotional well-being of children and the adults in their lives, or building a culture that prioritises early childhood, business has a significant part to play.”

Welcoming the report, Alison Morton, iHV CEO, said:

“This important programme of work, led by the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, is shining a much-needed spotlight on the social and economic case for investing in the earliest years of life. It is wonderful to see so many businesses joining this call and adding their weight of support. The commitments that have been announced today will quickly bring benefits to so many. They also lead the way for a lasting shift in our society that values early childhood and a legacy that can be proudly handed on to the next generation.

“The extent of the work of the Royal Foundation is far-reaching and we thank them for their ongoing support for health visiting and our work to improve the support that families with babies and young children receive.”

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said:

 “Early education and care is foundational to children’s lives but also working families and our long-term economy. So we are delighted that the Royal Foundation has got so many employers and organisations on board to emphasise and prioritise the crucial nature of early childhood.

“High quality early education and care can really boost all children’s learning and give them the best start in life, especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds where we know it can go a long way to closing the attainment gap. For this to happen, childcare providers across the UK need support to remain sustainable in the face of government underfunding and a long-standing recruitment crisis.

“Measures in the report show some innovative approaches to supporting the sector from companies such as NatWest and Co-Operative including apprenticeship levy contributions that could help to bolster the workforce who are instrumental in educating and supporting the development of our youngest children.”

Commenting, Neil Leitch CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said: 

“We welcome today’s report from the Royal Foundation Business Taskforce, which further proves that investing in the early years is not just incredibly beneficial for the children who use it, but for wider society. 

“For far too long, early education has been dismissed as childcare and educators as simply babysitters. It is therefore extremely positive to see the businesses in this taskforce come together and highlight just how far-reaching the benefits of early education truly are.  

“On top of this, we welcome the initial steps that businesses within the taskforce have taken to ensure that early education is prioritised both within the workplace and the economy, and we hope it inspires others to follow suit. “  

“At a time when the sector is already in the spotlight, we hope that this report will not only give ministers real pause for thought, but also act as a reminder that the benefits highlighted by the taskforce cannot come close to being realised without funding that reflects the cost of delivering high-quality early education – both now and in the future.” 

The report identifies five areas in which businesses of all sizes can have the opportunity to make the greatest impact for children under five, the adults around them, the economy and wider society:

  • Building a culture that prioritises early childhood within businesses, local communities, and wider society.
  • Helping families facing the greatest challenges access the basic support and essentials they need.
  • Offering parents and carers greater support, resources, choice, and flexibility with their work.
  • Prioritising and nurturing social and emotional skills in young children and the adults in their lives.
  • Supporting initiatives which increase access to quality, affordable and reliable early childhood education and care.

The release of the report is accompanied by a new business-focused area on The Centre for Early Childhood’s website containing practical information and resources.