Inequality 'hits child development'
England is failing its young children "on a grand scale" due to inequality, with many not achieving basic levels of social and emotional development, according to a leading expert.
Professor Sir Michael Marmot said markers of early child development were closely linked with deprivation and the country ranks "badly" compared with other nations.
Latest figures show the proportion of youngsters achieving a good level of development at age five stands at 59% in England, up slightly on the year before but still not good enough, he said.
"Only 59% of children were ranked at age five as having a good level of child development. Only 59%.
"You think to yourself, how can it possibly be the case that 41% of children across the country are thought not to have a good level of child development? Surely there must be something wrong with the figures, you think to yourself, that's what I thought. How can that possibly be right?
"The fact is it could be right. We do really, really badly on international comparisons, really badly."
He said a chart on international comparisons of child wellbeing puts Finland in front and the UK lagging behind. He said the UK is also "bumping along" and ranking about 25th on maths and science.
Sir Michael said the best universities in the country are also the best in Europe, but there are huge inequalities.
Public health minister Anne Milton said: "It is great that people are living longer but we know that much more must be done to narrow the gap of health inequalities. This is one of the driving forces behind our reform of the public health system.
"Health inequalities are caused by a complex web of factors and need a cross-cutting approach at every level of government. That is why we are giving councils the power and the budget to tackle public health. From next year, councils will get ringfenced budgets to help local people get healthier and to reduce health inequalities."