Children are facing a harsh dystopian-like future where the rich and poor "live in separate, parallel worlds," experts have chillingly stated.
A new report has starkly warned the UK faces "sleepwalking" into a world where children grow up in a state of "social apartheid," with inequality worsening in modern Britain.
According to the major new study, conducted by the National Children's Bureau (NCB), inequality that existed almost 50 years ago between rich and poor youngsters still remains and, in some respects, has worsened.
More children are living in poverty which is affecting everything from their education to their health, it said – with obesity becoming an escalating issue.
"There is a real risk of sleepwalking into a world where inequality becomes so entrenched that our children grow up in a state of social apartheid," the report said.
"This would be a society in which children's lives are so polarised that rich and poor live in separate, parallel worlds, and we tacitly accept that some children are simply destined to experience hardship and disadvantage by accident of birth."
The NCB's damning study compares the lives of children today with the findings of a ground-breaking national study of 11-year-olds called Born To Fail? published by the charity in 1973.
Around 3.5 million youngsters live in poverty today – around 1.5 million more than in 1969, the findings show.
In issues such as poverty, health, home and environment, the UK is average or worse, compared with other nations, the findings show.
Poverty and disadvantage blights the lives of many children and "unequal childhoods have become a permanent feature of our nation," the report said.
Many are affected by poor housing, with one in every 14 children in England – shockingly, around 800,000 in total – living in overcrowded homes.
The inequality continues outside of children's front doors because the wealthiest young people are nine times more likely than those living in the most deprived areas to have access to green spaces, places to play and environments with decent air quality, the report said.
There are also major health issues, the NCB said, with modern society facing a new health inequality challenge – obesity.
Children from deprived areas are at least twice as likely to be obese as those living in affluent areas, the report said, while boys are three times more likely to be obese and girls are twice as likely.
Younger children from poor homes are also less likely to have a good level of development when they start school at age four and disadvantaged teenagers are less likely to gain decent grades in their GCSEs, including English and maths, than their richer classmates.
NCB chief executive Dr Hilary Emery argued Britain's children should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential regardless of their circumstances.
"We cannot afford to let them grow up in such an unequal 'them and us' society in which the talents of the next generation are wasted, leaving them cut adrift to become a costly burden to the economy rather than a productive asset," she said.
The NCB is calling for a central government board to be set up to develop a strategy for reducing inequality and disadvantage.
A Government spokeswoman said they are aware "times are tough," and that they are securing a recovery for "everyone who wants to work hard."Suggest a correction