Sure Start cuts are unjustifiable, even by small-state conservatives

Centres help parents and their families, but 763 have closed since 2010

 

The clue is in the name. Sure Start centres provide a launch pad for struggling parents, rather than a long-term safety net.

Frankly, it would be better if they were to provide the latter thing, but it is because they only provide the former that there are no grounds on which small staters can coherently advocate their being cut.

It is crucial to put aside caricatures of Conservatives as especially selfish, especially callous or especially ill-informed. The result of the general election was such that voters for David Cameron could not have been especially anything.

There are plenty of reasons for which someone with the same ethical palette as you, someone who values empathy and fairness, who says ‘thank you’ to the bus driver, could support the shrinking of the state.

My generation do not recognise this for two reasons.

First, we have come to valorise political purity, that is, consistency, above all other political virtues. Second, political theory, the science that deals with the nitty gritty of governance is ignored in favour of its glamourous twin, ethics.

We must be willing to assume that, although it might be misguided, it is not absurd to hold that resilient and prosperous societies are the result of governance that encourages self-sufficiency.

But the cuts to Sure Start centres cannot be advocated coherently on these grounds. The most important thing centres do is provide parenting classes that parents can take if they have been referred by social services.

These classes, along with other services the centres provide, such as early years provision, are, by their nature, finite. The aim is to bring in, equip and then dismiss those in need. And they work.

Ofsted, as quoted in a report published by the House of Commons Education Committee in 2013, reported that ‘centres invariably provide case studies and anecdotal evidence that demonstrate ways in which individuals’ lives have been transformed’ and that ‘direct quotations from parents found in many reports provide compelling evidence of the positive impact of the centre on the lives of individual children and families’.

In 2014, centres were getting over a million of the most vulnerable families back on track.

Just before Christmas a review that laid bare the harm done by funding cuts to the centres was released along with 400 other documents. The aim of this release, at a busy time and accompanied by so much white noise, was to hide the content from the public.

There are now 763 fewer centres than there were in 2010 and more than 2,300 had their budgets cut across 2015. Already this year there has been a £3million cut to funding in Norfolk and similarly huge blows to communities in Buckinghamshire and Hampshire.

The Families Support Services review stated an intention to save around £53m across all services over the next four years, with a focus on the centres.

This is, in the truest sense of the word, unjustifiable. If you do not like, say, Job Seeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit or the Incapacity Benefit, there are all sorts of post hoc arguments you can make about agency and expectations and, even, aspiration to sound more compassionate.

To support these cuts to Sure Start given the evidence is not to be a small-stater – it is to be a mindless brute.

Laura Bragiel is a research intern at the Legatum Institute

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