The beleaguered service cannot take another four years of closures and reduced opening hours
Labour is warning today that the Tories’ planned spending cuts could result in the closure of over 1,000 Sure Start centres over the next four years, in what they say would be a disastrous development for working families.
The Sure Start initiative was set up by Labour in 1998 to provide parents of pre-school children with family and health advice. Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, David Cameron cut the Sure Start budget by 25 per cent, which resulted in the loss of 763 Sure Start centres.
On the basis of this, Labour calculates that 269 centres will be lost this year. And based on the spending plans set out at the Budget, the Conservatives would cut unprotected areas like Sure Start by 26 per cent from 2015-16 to 2018-19. On the same basis as what happened in the last parliament, this would mean 786 Sure Start centres lost.
Added to the predicted losses this year, this means that another Tory government would result in the loss of 1055 Sure Start centres between now and 2019.
Labour points out that before the last election, David Cameron promised to protect Sure Start centres. He accused Gordon Brown of scaremongering:
“They’re trying to frighten mothers by saying we’re against Sure Start but we back Sure Start and we want to expand it.”
But since Cameron came to power the service has been in steady decline. Even those centres which have stayed open have suffered; one in six has reduced its opening hours; one in ten provides fewer services; and one in five has fewer staff than in 2010.
Meanwhile, childcare costs have gone up six times faster than wages, and available childcare places have fallen by 40,000.
Tristram Hunt, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:
“The Tories pose a real threat to Sure Start – a service relied on by thousands of working families.
“Before the last election, David Cameron said he would protect Sure Start but since then there are hundreds fewer centres. If they get in again they’ll do the same again. Their extreme plans mean over 1,000 of the remaining centres face the axe.
“Working families can’t afford five more years of this failing Tory plan. We need Labour’s better plan, which will revive Sure Start, provide more childcare places and extend free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds.”
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter
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