The last Labour government implemented a programme to try to ensure that every child gets the best start in life. More than 3,600 Sure Start Children’s Centres were developed offering permanent universal provision in every area in the country. Nearly 3 million young children and their families currently use these Centres, which include integrated early education and childcare, child and family health and support services, and links to employment services such as Jobcentre Plus and training providers.
Before the last general election, serious questions were raised about the political parties’ commitments to the Sure Start programme.
When challenged, David Cameron, Conservative Party Leader and now Prime Minister, said he was affronted that it was being suggested that the Conservatives didn’t support Sure Start and said “I want not just to repeat our commitment to keep Sure Start, but to set out how we will improve Sure Start.”
Liberal Democrat Leader, and now Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg said: “Sure Start is a really important programme that has made a real difference to millions of parents. Difficult decisions are going to have to be made in public spending, but Sure Start is one of the best things the last government has done and I want all these centres to stay open.”
Last month, the House of Commons Library confirmed that, since 2010, the Early Intervention Grant, which supports the funding of Sure Start had been cut by more than 40%. The cuts for each council range from 33% to 48%.
Councils with the highest levels of deprivation have already suffered the biggest cuts, and will suffer even bigger cuts over the next 3 years. Locally, the Early Intervention Grant allocation cuts between 2010/11 and 2013/14 are Barnsley – 45.6%, Doncaster - 46%, Rotherham - 46.4%, Sheffield -45.6%, Nottinghamshire – 42.8%, Derbyshire – 38.3%.
As a result, more than 400 Sure Start centres have already closed. Many more face closure or being required to make significant cuts in provision over the next year. 55% of centres already report that they have stopped providing on-site daycare.
When the coalition government is cutting Sure Start – in direct contradiction to the promises made – at the same time as it is giving millionaires a £100,000 tax cut, it is difficult to believe that it has its priorities right.