Next month, many English councils will reveal, in full, the details of where they plan to make spending cuts. When those figures are announced, parents and supporters fear the country’s network of Sure Start children’s centres will be decimated, stripping away what they regard as a valuable safety net for families on low incomes. The government, however, insists that any cuts to Sure Start will come as a result of decisions made by local councils, who have been given greater control over their budgets.
Introduced in 1998 as part of a drive to tackle child poverty, Sure Start centres were designed to bring together multiple support agencies under one roof. Presently numbering over 6,500, their advocates say they offer a place where parents can receive health and parenting advice alongside free, safe childcare and early education, as well as help with training and finding work. The programme’s supporters also claim that, by providing a place to socialise, meet other parents and allow children to mix, Sure Start centres can help strengthen fractured local communities.
…a positive impact on their lives…
Indeed, while Labour’s record on tackling child poverty (which it famously pledged in 1999 to halve by 2010) is notoriously patchy, research has shown that its Sure Start initiative was both widely popular and very often effective. A survey by the influential parenting website Netmums found that 71% of parents who had used Sure Start centres felt they’d had a positive impact on their lives, while the independent inspectorate Ofsted noted in 2009 that:
“The successful integration of services has made life-changing differences to some parents and their children, particularly for families with children who have learning difficulties, disabilities and delays in physical development.”
…reduce the likelihood of dependence on the state later in life…
Sure Start’s defenders also argue that the scheme helps reduce public spending in the long-term by giving parents and their children support when it is most needed. By successfully intervening early on, so the theory goes, Sure Start can reduce the likelihood of dependence on the state later in life.
However, following the government’s controversial decision to remove the obligation on councils to make provision for early years support, campaigners are concerned that under-pressure authorities will be tempted, or even forced, to abandon Sure Start centres. They worry that those centres that do remain open will be cut to the bone and left barely recognisable, severely limited in the much-needed help they can provide to families.
‘No Cuts for Kids’, a campaign founded by mum-of-one Louise King, is committed to getting the government to reinstate the ring-fence. A first-time campaigner (and, for full disclosure, a Labour member) King is a firm believer in the value of Sure Start to local communities and worries that without it, many more vulnerable families will simply slip through the net.
Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow…
Images courtesy of Sure Start and No Cuts For Kids