"Education is at the heart of our vision for fairness," Nick Clegg has told an audience at the Elephant & Castle.
The Liberal Democrat leader set out his belief in early years education to tackle inequality and committed his party to investing an extra £2.5 billion in schools.
Nick Clegg was speaking at first in a series of Social Justice lectures hosted by the Salvation Army headquarters at Newington Causeway.
"Our big task now is giving people back their hope. It's something the Salvation Army does every day – with people who have problems with drink or drugs, women escaping violent relationships, prisoners coming to terms with their pasts. It's how you help people turn their lives around. We're only going to turn this country around if we do the same: make people believe it is possible."
The Liberal leader suggested four steps to make a real difference to people's lives: fair taxes, a rebalanced economy, decent, honest politics and a good start for all children.
He promised that the new education money would be targeted specifically to closing the gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their wealthier classmates.
"Labour, despite all the money it has put into schools, has failed to transform the life chances of thousands of children who need the most help," claimed Mr Clegg. "The Conservatives parrot the language of school reform but refuse to allocate a single penny to make their promises a reality."
The invited audience included Salvation Army leaders as well as representatives from charities and community organisations.
In congratulating the Salvation Army on its Seeds of Exclusion report, Mr Clegg said: "There is a simple principle that the Salvation Army, the Liberal Democrats, and many of the organisations here today share. The fortunes of someone's life should not be decided at their birth."