Sure Start transforms lives forever. It is one of Labour’s greatest ever achievements and it is under brutal attack by the Tories. Labour Friends of Sure Start believes that the future of our Children’s Centres should be a key issue in this Leadership contest. So we wrote to every candidate for Leader and Deputy Leader of the Party asking their vision for Sure Start. We are publishing their responses this week. Today it is the turn of Deputy Leadership candidate John Healey.
The heart of the case for Sure Start is simple and more important now than ever: there is no better way of closing the attainment gap between kids from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers than early intervention. This is ensuring equality of opportunity in practice at the start of life when it matters most.
Of all the changes that the 1997-2010 Labour government made to help families with children – the expansion of free early years education for 3 and 4 year-olds, the working and child tax credits, paid paternity leave – Sure Start was perhaps the most important.
As a Minister in the Department for Education and then at the Treasury when I did two spending reviews, I was proud to play a part in this.
But it’s now the very principle not just the provision of Sure Start that is under threat.
The Tory story on the early years has been to de-regulation and crude demand-led funding. But this is entirely the wrong prescription when early years services are beset by patchy quality and sky-high costs.
Sure Start must be an essential element of a long-term strategy for the early years based on a universal service commitment for families with children, with guaranteed funding and standards.
Our imperative in this Parliament must be to make this principled case, but also to ensure in practice that a viable network of children’s centres stay open.
I’ve seen how Tory cuts have threatened centres in my constituency. In Rotherham the funding for our children’s centres has been cut by £8.6m since 2010, more than half which makes our area the ninth worst hit budget in the country. And just like other Labour MPs, I worked with the council and campaigned to safeguard those centres we can.
Hundreds of children’s centres have closed since 2010 directly as a consequence of increasingly deep funding cuts from Tory ministers, starting with the introduction of the Early Intervention Grant, which according to the Local Government Association was a 32% cut compared to the separate funding streams it replaced.
So as Labour’s Deputy Leader, I’d stand alongside any councillor, party member or MP to help keep these services open. But I’d also make sure as party we never lose the bigger ideal and political argument for why we set Sure Start up in the first place.
Photo Source: National Archives