Sure Start centre cuts have hit poorest areas hardest, says new report.
The number of children using Sure Start centres in England has dropped by almost a fifth since 2014, with the most disadvantaged areas hit hardest, according to a new report on the impact of cuts.
The report by UK charity Action for Children covers the period between 2014/15 and 2017/18. It finds average children’s centre spending by councils fell from £532 to £412 per child; the estimated number of children using children’s centres in England fell by 18 per cent and the number using children’s centre sin the most deprived council areas fell by 22 per cent.
Action for Children points to an association between the average developmental gap shrinking in areas where children’s centre use has increased and a widening of the gap in areas where their use has fallen. Since 2014/15, it says, more than 800,000 children started school below the expected developmental milestones – including 168,000 from low-income families.
Sure Start was set up by Labour and offers a broad range of services focusing on family health, early years care and education and improved well-being programmes to children aged 0-4.
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “Children’s centres have seen their budgets slashed by almost two thirds since 2010. This has left them unable to continue to reach families across communities, leaving many thousands of new parents with nowhere to turn for early help support – a far cry from the idea of easily-accessible, one-stop-shops within pram-pushing distance.
“From helping parents manage difficult behaviour and embed routines for their children, there are few things with which they’re not equipped to help. Crucially, they’re often the first place to identify serious issues like abuse and neglect and step in before problems spiral out of control.
“The government must use the forthcoming Spending Review to allocate additional funding to local councils and ease the squeeze on children’s centre budgets. Giving children the best start in life is not only the right thing to do but helps to reduce the need for costly child protection services for when things go wrong.”
Meanwhile, a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies published this week reveals a big increase in the UK’s ‘working poor’ since the 1990s, with almost three out of five people below the official poverty line living in a household where at least one person is working. The study found a drop in the number of workless households, better-off pensioners and higher rents had resulted in relative poverty for 8m people from working households. The thinktank added that success in reducing the number of households with nobody in paid employment had been a key factor in increasing in-work poverty.