Report shows Sure Start transformed children’s health…before Tories and Lib Dems slashed spending on them

Sure Start was hugely succesful but its funding has been cut by 2/3 since 2010.

A sure start centre

A new study has shown the huge benefits Sure Start centres had on childrens’ health, particularly in poorer neighbourhoods.

In 1998, the new Labour government began building 3,500 ‘Sure Start’ centres which provide health, education and childcare services to families with young children.

On the eve of the 2010 election, Tory leader David Cameron said: “We back Sure Start. It’s a disgrace that [Labour prime minister] Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this…not only do we back Sure Start, but we will improve it.”

After the coalition government came into power, funding for Sure Start was cut by two-thirds and 500 centres were closed down by 2017.

Researchers from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) followed children who accessed the services over several years between 1999 and the late 2000s, when they finished primary school.

They found that Sure Start had a big positive effect on children’s health and reduced hospitalisations. That positive effect was concentrated on children living in disadvantaged areas, they said.

The main findings of the research include:

• Sure Start significantly reduced hospitalisations among children by the time they finish primary school. One more centre per thousand children (aged 0–4) prevents around 5,500 hospitalisations per year.

• Sure Start’s benefits are strongest for children living in disadvantaged areas. Providing access to Sure Start at the 2010 level closes about a half of the gap in hospitalisation rates between the 30% poorest and 30% richest areas by the end of primary school.

• At every age in primary school, Sure Start reduced hospital admissions for injuries. At younger ages, injury-related hospitalisations fell by around 17% of their pre-Sure-Start baseline; at ages 10 and 11, they fell by 30%.

• The direct savings to the NHS from fewer hospitalisations at ages 5–11 amount to about £5 million per cohort, or just 0.4% of average annual spending on Sure Start. Including the longer-run savings from fewer injuries as well, the financial benefits reach around 6% of Sure Start’s budget. However, a full cost–benefit analysis is not possible since the IFS only investigate Sure Start’s impact on health outcomes.

• Between 2011 and 2017, over 500 Sure Start sites have officially been closed. While closures have been more concentrated in richer areas, about 170 of those closures have been in the poorest 30% of neighbourhoods. There has been a lot of variation between councils. Some local authorities have closed the majority of their centres, while others have chosen to keep centres open but reduce the services on offer through them.

UCL Associate Professor and IFS research fellow Gabriella Conti said:

“Access to Sure Start has had big benefits for children’s health during primary school. Since the benefits are biggest in the poorest neighbourhoods, access to Sure Start can help close around half the gap in hospitalisations between rich and poor areas.”

Commenting, IFS research economist Christine Farquharson said:

“Sure Start has had a turbulent history, with a fast roll-out followed by deep spending cuts. But these decisions were not always based on thorough evidence about the programme’s impacts on children and their families.”

“Ahead of the Spending Review, it’s crucial that both central government and local authorities use the best evidence available to decide on their vision for Sure Start as the programme turns 20. Our findings suggest that limited resources are best focused on the poorest areas.”

At the beginning of the Coalition government, Left Foot Forward revealed that ministers were trying to falsely argue that the Sure Start budget was not being cut, using misleading figures.

Joe Lo is a freelance journalist and a reporter for Left Foot Forward

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3 Responses to “Report shows Sure Start transformed children’s health…before Tories and Lib Dems slashed spending on them”

  1. Patrick Newman

    The facts of the slashing of Sure Start centres needs to be remembered when people suggest the Lib Dems are rehabilitated and which is currently led by one who enthusiastically served under Cameron and Osborne.

  2. Patrick Newman

    The benefits of Sure Start are much wider than reducing hospital admissions for children. See:- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SureStart. Sure Start is an important component of promoting equal opportunities as it is able to focus on the parental and child care needs of poor families. These cuts have a particular impact on those less able to get support.

  3. Tom Sacold

    The Sure Start scheme did a lot of very good work.

    Around here, however, they were dominated by middle-class mums who could afford to spend years on a maternity career-break. Maybe when we reintroduce them we could run them on more egalitarian lines by getting those who can afford to pay for the service to do so.

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