First 1001 Days Movement calls for action to address decline in baby health

19 March 2024

Manifesto for babies front cover image
  • Over 200 charities publish a ‘Manifesto for babies’ today, to address a five-year decline in toddler development. One in five two-year olds in England are now below expected levels of development.
  • Charities warn failure to act now will create ‘a ticking time bomb’ that hits when children start school.
  • Ahead of what is set to be the most crucial election for babies, politicians are urged to invest in prevention – as ‘Start for Life’ funding runs out in 12 months’ time.

A coalition of over 200 charities and professionals is demanding urgent support for vulnerable babies, amid growing concerns about the health and welfare of Britain’s youngest. The appeal follows last month’s warning from the Academy of Medical Sciences that the UK is “betraying” young children, by neglecting their essential physical and mental health needs.

The First 1001 Days Movement has published a ‘Manifesto for Babies’ today, with recommendations for political parties. This includes an urgent call for the NHS to set a target to support 60,000 vulnerable babies over the next five years.

The manifesto recommendations include:

  1. An ambitious cross-government strategy to support babies’ healthy development, with a dedicated Cabinet Committee reporting directly to the Prime Minister, to ensure cohesive action
  2. Sustainable funding for preventative services, and extending funding for the ‘Start for Life’ programme
  3. A rapid review of the tax and benefits system for parents and carers of under-twos, with increased paid paternity and parental leave, alongside training nursery staff on infant mental health

The manifesto comes at a critical moment, with ‘Start for Life’ funding running out in 12 months’ time. The charities wrote to the Chancellor requesting an extension of funding, but it was not included in the Budget.

Local services are worried by the worsening health of the babies and young children they see:

  • Toddler development in England has declined over the last five years, with one in five two-year olds now below the expected level of development.
  • Slow development impacts on school readiness, with latest data showing 2.5 hours of teacher time is lost every day because children are not ‘school-ready’, and one in four children starting reception are not toilet trained.
  • The charities warn an estimated 10% of babies in this country are living in fear and distress because of disturbed or unpredictable care , and that one in five babies is missing the mandatory one-year old health visitor check where problems can be picked up.

Evidence shows that the first 1,001 days of a child’s life, from pregnancy to age two lay the foundations for a happy and healthy life. The support and wellbeing of babies during this time is strongly linked to better outcomes later in life, including educational achievement, progress at work, physical and mental health.

Quotes from First 1001 Days Movement members backing the ‘Manifesto for babies’:

“Ignoring the needs of vulnerable babies leaves a ticking time bomb that hits when children start school. With the electoral battleground heating up, crucial services for babies hang in the balance. Start for life cannot be allowed to suffer the same fate as Sure Start. As babies can’t vote, it’s crucial that we speak up for them. Investing in babies’ well-being is not only the smart thing to do from a policy perspective, it’s a moral imperative.”

Keith Reed, Chief Executive at The Parent-Infant Foundation

“One of the most worthwhile investments for the next generation of babies would be the gift of time with their dads. There is a growing body of evidence about the unique impacts warm and involved fathering has during the first critical 1001 days of a baby’s life and beyond, and fathers are doing more care than ever before. Fathers do this despite an old-fashioned system of parental leave, which continue to see dads as breadwinners and mothers as carers. Investing in well paid leave for dads during the first year is an investment in the future of all our babies.”

Katherine Jones, Joint Chief Executive of The Fatherhood Institute

“A baby’s relationship with its parents and main carers is the foundation that underpins healthy development. But not every baby grows up supported and nurtured. It is why we must build compassionate communities equipped to support families and children.

Statutory and health services, specialist mental health services and, importantly, voluntary community sector organisations must all work together to bring their collective expertise to supporting families and children in the earliest years. It is only by taking this joined up approach that we will transform lives for all children.”

Peter Grigg, Chief Executive of Home-Start UK

“Action to address inequalities in the first 1001 days of life is urgent. Between 2017 and 2021, if stillbirth and neonatal deaths rates had been the same for Black and Asian babies as for white babies, 1,704 more babies would have survived.”

Clea Harmer, Chief Executive SANDS

“The first 1001 days are turbo-charged in the lives of children, which set the tone for how their futures will turn out. The next Government needs to seize this opportunity and make ambitious plans for babies and their families backed by investment both in services and the workforce that is vital in changing outcomes for the better. This manifesto, carefully developed with expertise from across different sectors, shows a way forward and we urge politicians from all parties to get behind this vision.”

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive NCB

“Future Men fully values the essential importance of the First 1001 Days in the development of a flourishing individual. In supporting these crucial early days, Future Men knows that fathers are vital for providing a nurturing environment for their newborns, the continued and improved provision of services at this crucial time especially those that recognise and include an offer for fathers within them, is crucial and reflects what families want and need.”

Owen Thomas, Interim Managing Director of Future Men

“The first few years of a child’s life are a time of growth and opportunity, but it is also when they are at their most vulnerable to abuse and neglect.

“Babies are entirely dependent on the love and care of others for their physical, social and emotional development. It’s vital that families have a community of support around them, alongside sustainably funded, preventative services that help foster a healthy parent-infant relationship.

“Our youngest children and their families need political leaders to put them at the heart of their parties’ plans as we head into the next General Election.”

Sir Peter Wanless, Chief Executive NSPCC

“The next government must prioritise the health of our babies and young children. The current situation is deeply concerning, as the health of our nation’s children has now plummeted to the lowest rankings amongst other comparable nations. Health visitors see the human face of these statistics every day.

“With more young children falling behind with their development and being harmed by conditions that are entirely preventable, there is a clear imperative to act.

“We urge all parties to listen to the collective voice of the First 1001 Days Movement – coalition of more than 200 organisations – captured in this manifesto. In particular, our call for urgent investment in health visiting to ensure that all babies and young children get the support that they need to thrive and to restore this vital safety-net for the most vulnerable”.

Alison Morton, Chief Executive Institute of Health Visiting

“There has been a huge reduction in the health visiting workforce over the last few years and, due to this, the number of visits that we are able to offer to all families has vastly reduced. This has left health visitors unable to complete more preventative public health work with families to enable their babies to get off to the best start. It feels like we are now fighting a rapidly out of control fire, trying to help families where difficulties have become entrenched or when there is significant developmental delay and long waiting lists for specialist support. Seeing and trying to respond to more need, with an ever-decreasing workforce is not sustainable without immediate action and long-term commitment from the government.”

Emma Carey, Health Visitor and Queen’s nurse


About the Manifesto for Babies:

See more on the website

The Manifesto for Babies is published by the First 1001 Days Movement – a coalition of over 200 charities and professionals who believe that babies’ emotional wellbeing and development matters. Our members deliver a wide range of services that protect and support vulnerable babies and their families.

These recommendations for UK policymakers are based on a survey of our membership.

The Manifesto for Babies was developed by a Steering Group comprised of Future Men, the Institute of Health Visiting, NSPCC, the National Children’s Bureau, Home-Start UK, the Anna Freud Centre, AiMH-UK, the Association of Child Psychotherapists, SANDS, Blackpool Centre for Early Child Development, Best Beginnings, Approachable Parenting, Fatherhood Institute, Oxpip, the Parent-Infant Foundation and elected individual experts; Professor Eunice Lumsden, Bethany Boddy and Emma Carey.

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