Coalition stands by Sure Start, but fails to explain “big society”

The coalition programme announced today sticks to Conservative manifesto pledges on Sure Start, but misses an opportunity to explain the "Big Society" idea.

The coalition programme announced today largely sticks to Conservative manifesto pledges on Sure Start, but misses an opportunity to put reality behind the “Big Society” idea. The new Government promises to “take Sure Start back to its original purpose of early intervention and increase its focus on neediest families”. It is good to see recognition of the importance of Sure Start, one of the last Government’s big achievements. Unfortunately, the new Government doesn’t seem to remember its original purpose.

The original purpose of Sure Start was something more than early intervention. True, it worked with under fives, but its philosophy went far wider than poverty-plus-age-range. It aimed to empower local parents in poor areas, and support them in specifying and creating the services they wanted to improve their children’s lives.

Though funded with central government money, the purpose of Sure Start was localist: to create different provision for different places, responding to local needs rather than councils or Whitehall. Approaches varied, but the local voice was vital.

Sure Start local programmes were ‘Big Society’ before the term existed, but localism and parent power don’t seem to be the “original purpose” the new Government have in mind. The Government promises that organisations with a track record of supporting families will be more involved, and that providers will be paid in part by results. Nothing wrong with that in principle, but it is not taking Sure Start back to its roots.

More worrying, the Government’s proposals on health visitors are likely to reduce the focus on very needy families, not increase it. As with income tax allowances, the policy appears to be “ignore the destitute to pay the poor”. An increase in the number of health visitors would be very welcome, but do so by cutting Sure Start outreach services is perverse.

The children most able to benefit from support are those in the worst settings, in chaotic households with complex and multi-layered problems. Their parents will not trot up to the door of the children’s centre unbidden. They need workers in the Sure Start centres to go out and find them. The coalition programme promises to investigate “a new approach to helping families with multiple problems”, but it has part of one already in place, and proposes to cut it.

Given deficit reduction plans, it’s hard to get away from the fear that “original focus” implies “smaller”, and “focusing on the neediest families” implies “means-testing access to children’s centres”.

We aren’t in the heady days of 2005 when the Guardian could complain that the Government was only doubling spending on Sure Start rather than quintupling it, but if the Government are sticking with Sure Start, they should stick with its founding principles: equal access for all children in the area, local autonomy, and hard work to reach the worst-off.

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15 Responses to “Coalition stands by Sure Start, but fails to explain “big society””

  1. House Of Twits

    RT @leftfootfwd Coalition stands by Sure Start, but fails to explain "big society": http://bit.ly/bLsgeH

  2. Jenny Wren

    RT @HouseofTwits: RT @leftfootfwd Coalition stands by Sure Start, but fails to explain "big society": http://bit.ly/bLsgeH

  3. Lamlamlamlamlamyaaaa

    RT @leftfootfwd: Coalition stands by Sure Start, but fails to explain "big society": http://bit.ly/bLsgeH

  4. election time

    Big society plans explained in health today – directly elected PCT boards, a la New Zealand. Big change.
    Haven’t checked other coalition agreements, but expect the detail is scattered throughout

  5. JoshC

    “The children most able to benefit from support are those in the worst settings, in chaotic households with complex and multi-layered problems. Their parents will not trot up to the door of the children’s centre unbidden. They need workers in the Sure Start centres to go out and find them.”

    It’s not the finding that the problem. Health Visitors already do that. The problem is the time and effort involved in encouraging them to become involved. Health Visitors do not and will not have time to do that. At present whenever a HV encounters a family with problems that can’t be solved in the short time they have to work with each family or one with problems outside their experience they pass on those families to Sure Start Outreach Workers.

    In one move they’ve destroyed one of the most important services delivered by Sure Start, not to mention that those same Outreach Workers also deliver/support half of the groups that Sure Start offers.

    They clearly don’t have the foggiest idea about how Sure Start Children’s Centres work.

  6. Aspect EYPs

    RT @leftfootfwd: Coalition stands by Sure Start, but fails to explain "big society": http://bit.ly/bLsgeH

  7. R Gordon

    RT @AspectEYPs: RT @leftfootfwd: Coalition supp Sure Start, <but will cut outreach services which help most needy> : http://bit.ly/bLsgeH

  8. R Gordon

    @Neiley83 RT @AspectEYPs: RT @leftfootfwd: Coalition supp Sure Start, <cuts 2outreach services which help most needy> : http://bit.ly/bLsgeH

  9. Mr. Sensible

    The ‘big society’ has the hidden message of cuts behind it.

    Surestart is being cut.#

  10. Jenny Bunker

    @LikeFelix have you seen this on Sure Start Lil? http://bit.ly/bLsgeH

  11. Anon E Mouse

    Anthony – People have the rights to change their minds and modify their positions – especially in a coalition. Flexibility is the key.

    With over 3000 new laws created by the last control freaks who ran our country there will obviously be many forthcoming changes to legislation and rightly so.

    If you continue to write articles based on position changes or removing bad laws eg ID Cards, HIP’s, DNA Database etc you will basically be just rewriting your same article over and over again.

    This is a meaningless position for you to adopt…

  12. blogs of the world

    The coalition programme announced today sticks to Conservative manifesto pledges on Sure S… http://reduce.li/eqpfxf #stands

  13. James Meeks

    RT @leftfootfwd: Coalition stands by Sure Start, but fails to explain "big society" http://bit.ly/bLsgeH

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