Family support program slashed by Tories proven to ‘significantly improve’ children’s education 

Labour MPs are calling on Keir Starmer to commit to reinvent the policy which faced devastating Tory cuts

Sure Start program Labour policy Tory cuts

A new study has revealed the success of Sure Start in England on academic outcomes, finding how the program greatly improved GCSE results for disadvantaged children, by as much as three GCSE grades. 

Labour MPs are now calling for a next Labour government to reverse the drastic Tory cuts to the pioneering policy – that set up a network of ‘one-stop shops’ which brought early years, health and family support services under a single roof for families with children under 5. 

The report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) showed that the benefits of access to Sure Start were ‘much larger’ for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, with children from the lowest-income families experiencing benefits six times greater than other children. 

Just living near a Sure Start centre before the age of five saw a significant increase in test scores for children later on, generating a 0.8 grade improvement in GCSEs by age 16, the equivalent of going from a C to a B, the research found. 

At its peak there were close to 3,500 centres as the policy became an important element of the early years policy landscape in England over the decade it was rolled out, receiving a third of the total early years budget.

However when the Conservative Party came to power, funding for the program was drastically cut. Between 2010 and 2022 funding for Sure Start decreased by over two-thirds, and over 1,340 centres closed. 

Professor of Economics at King’s College, Jonathan Portes, slammed the cuts: “The deliberate and cynical destruction of Sure Start stands out – against stiff competition – as one of the worst long-term policy decisions taken by a British government in recent decades.”

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who first announced the Sure Start initiative as Chancellor in 1998, is among those calling for the program to be brought back after he said its “wilful destruction”, which “has set back opportunities for millions of children’s futures”.

Along with the educational benefits, the IFS found that the policy was an economic success too, estimating that for every £1 the government spent on Sure Start, there were benefits to attending children worth £1.09, solely through school outcomes. 

IFS research economist, Nick Ridpath, said: “The return on investment in integrated early years services that are given the resources to reach those most in need can be very large.”

Keir Starmer has been called on to introduce a new Sure Start programme in his election manifesto, as MPs and commentators have reacted by highlighting the report as further damning evidence of how Tory cuts have hit the poorest households over the past decade.

Mary Kelly Foy MP commented: “More than one third of all babies, children and young people in the North East are living in poverty right now. They desperately need a programme like Sure Start, and other anti-poverty policies, to have the future they deserve.”

Ian Byrne MP said: “Hugely important piece on how Sure Start truly levelled up communities. Every day I see the damage done by Govts of the last 14 years to the long term health & wellbeing of the nation by destroying this programme through the political choice of austerity.”

(Image credit: York Labour / Creative Commons)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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