The first moments in a child's life are incredibly precious. But they are also the most formative. From birth to age three, the first 1,000 days can make a huge difference to how happy, successful and healthy you are.
Cognitive science has demonstrated that 80% of brain development takes place in the first three years of life and that loving secure relationships, alongside a quality learning environment, makes a huge different to emotional wellbeing, language development and the ability to learn.
One of the most important areas is communication and vocabulary. Research has shown that by age 3, children from more disadvantaged backgrounds have heard around 30 million fewer words than children from affluent families - or 1,400 words fewer per hour.
This impacts on life chances - by the start of primary school, children in the UK from low income backgrounds are 19 months behind their peers. The legacy of poor vocabulary doesn't stop there, however: adults in their mid-thirties are twice as likely to be unemployed if they had poor vocabulary when they start primary school. All this strongly demonstrates the importance of high quality learning and support in the early years.
Much of this evidence was the original driving force behind Sure Start 20 years ago. The creation of Sure Start remains one of the greatest achievements of the last Labour Government, helping to give children from all backgrounds a better start in life.
Tragically, in the past five years much of that progress has been eroded as the budget for Sure Start has been slashed by the Tory Government, children's centres services have been scaled back and provision hollowed out.
Spending on Sure Start in London has been cut by £122million in recent years, forcing centres to scale back services. According to 4 Children, more than nine in ten children centre managers expect there to be a reduction in universal services in the future.
We need to get back to some of the founding principles of Sure Start and restore the service to its original mission.
Tessa Jowell was one of the original founders of Sure Start. Now campaigning to be Labour's mayoral candidate in London, she has stressed the shocking fact that nearly four in ten of London's children are falling behind expected standards by the age of five.
Tessa has developed a plan to reinvigorate Sure Start in the capital. If she becomes mayor next year she would use a £60 million a year fund aimed at improving the nurture and early learning of babies and young children. This would represent a 28% increase in funding for Sure Start in London.
Tessa has identified funding from the Olympic precept which could fund Sure Start along with match funding from local authorities who are prepared to support this vision.
The money would be available to London boroughs to deliver in three crucial areas: universal services for parents and babies; targeted services for those parents who need extra help; and re-establishing Sure Start as a community mission.
In practical terms, the money would fund services to help parents with breastfeeding, building relationships and communicating with their baby. Children's centres could provide extra sessions such as structured play that helps with development; singing and story sessions or support groups for new Dads. And for those who may be struggling, there would be advice on alcohol, drug and smoking as well as healthy eating and a dedicated Parentline for concerned parents to get advice.
The additional funding will also be used to help make Sure Start children's centres the focal point for families in the first 1,000 days of their child's life. Sure Start centres will deliver new services such as health visiting, GP services, housing, ¬ finance, birth registration, library and other community services, as well as having staff on site who can help with speech and language issues or identify mental health issues in young children.
We need a Mayor with a proven track record in tackling inequalities, so a child's life chances are not decided just by accident of birth.We need a mayor who can make sure that every child in our capital has every chance. That's why we need Tessa, and that's why I'm backing her.