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Ground-breaking multi-disciplinary research is to be launched today by the University of Oxford into the impact of poverty and social inequalities in early childhood, thanks to major funding from the Leverhulme Trust.

Fifteen doctoral scholarships, funded by a £1.35 million Leverhulme Trust award, will span the social and biological sciences with the aim of reducing the impact of these disadvantages on children’s life chances.

One in five children in low-income countries lives in extreme poverty, while declining living standards over the last decade has resulted in a quarter of children in the UK now being affected by poverty.

Led by Professor Jane Barlow, Chair in Evidence-Based Intervention and Policy Evaluation, the Leverhulme Trust Biopsychosocial Doctoral Scholarships scheme will be the first doctoral programme to bring together expertise from diverse disciplines with the explicit goal of reducing the impact of social inequality in early childhood through the application of biological science. The programme will encompass Oxford’s departments of Social Policy and InterventionSociologyPsychiatry, and Experimental Psychology.

Professor Barlow says, ‘Despite improvements in universal access to education and healthcare, poverty continues to be a significant predictor worldwide of poor outcomes.’

Interventions and policies designed to improve the life-chances of young children living in poverty have made a significant contribution to counteracting early social adversity. But the benefits have been limited.

‘Advances in biomedical research suggest that the origins of long-term social inequality may, in fact, be biologically ‘embedded’ in children during sensitive developmental periods, thereby indicating the need to address such biological factors’, explains Professor Barlow.

 

Understanding and minimising the impact of social adversity on children’s long-term life chances requires people with very different backgrounds to work together. I am excited by the opportunity that this funding provides to bring expertise in neurobiology to help this complex, but crucial endeavour.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Tunbridge, Department of Psychiatry.

Professor Barlow adds, ‘This exciting new programme of scholarships will expose students to expertise and cutting edge mixed-methods research across the fields of psychology, sociology, neuroscience, endocrinology, genetics, and ethics, producing a new generation of scientists who have the necessary skills to be future research leaders in this important field.’

The prestigious Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships, worth £1.35 million, are awarded to 10 UK Universities once every three years.

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