This Report addresses an issue which is fundamentally a matter of social justice; namely that although the last 20 years have brought marked increases in prosperity and substantial reductions in mortality to the people of this country as a whole, the gap between those at the bottom and those at the top of the social scale has widened. Yet there is convincing evidence that provided an appropriate agenda of policies can be defined and given priority, many of these inequalities are remediable. The same is true for those that exist between various ethnic groups and between the sexes. (Acheson 1998: v)

Social exclusion starts very early, long before a child is born. It is rooted in poverty, inadequate housing, chronic ill health and long-term unemployment. Children born in poverty are denied the resources and opportunities available to other children. Some children face additional obstacles because of their gender, race, religion or disability. Although most grow up in loving families who care passionately about wanting a better life for their children, too many children living in poverty begin and end their childhood in a state of social exclusion and educational underfunctioning and continue to experience unemployment, poverty and ill health throughout their adult lives. The challenge to our society is to loosen and break the stranglehold of poverty on the development of our children.