Back in 2010 David Cameron promised to protect Sure Start, saying “we back Sure Start and we want to expand it”.
Instead we have seen a cut of 25% to the Sure Start budget and 763 centres closed, with another 269 set for closure this year. Now under extreme cuts planned by the Tories for the next four years we may see another 1055 lost from now until 2018-19.
Sure Start closures will hit working families already struggling under David Cameron’s government.
Parents in the North East have already seen the steepest rises in childcare costs over the last five years – the cost of a part-time nursery place for a child over two has gone up by a staggering 53%. At the current rate parents in this region could face an average bill of £163 a week by 2020.
Government cuts have left many Sure Start centres closed or mothballed while childcare costs have gone up six times faster than wages and available childcare places have fallen by 40,000.
The unfair cuts to council funding across the North East have already led to the loss of 51 Sure Starts across our region, cuts which directly hit working families. Labour councils across the region have done their best to protect services but are faced by stark challenges. Even where services remain open, many have had to reduce hours, lay off staff and cut back on what they can offer families.
Sure Start centres work with families to improve health, education and life chances for thousands of children across our communities. The kind of early intervention provided by Sure Start can have a huge effect on children, especially those in our most deprived communities, improving their outcomes at school and helping them achieve more.
Sure Start centres provide vital links for parents and families, not just providing childcare and Early Years education but vital support for parents, helping them to access services that help them improve their own lives. Families in our communities need a better plan.
Labour will revive Sure Start and tackle the shortage of childcare places seen under the Tories, giving local authorities an obligation to provide childcare at Sure Start centres, with the ability to open up the door to other childcare providers so the whole community can use them.
This will double the number of childcare places available at Sure Start centres – at least 50,000 more places – and help these centres reach more families and open their doors for longer; helping them to once again become hubs for other targeted services supporting vulnerable families and children.
We will extend free childcare from 15 to 25 hours for working parents with three and four-year-olds, paid for with an increase in the bank levy – because 15 hours just isn’t enough to enable parents to balance the demands of going out to work and looking after their children.
We will ensure that all primary schools guarantee access to wraparound childcare from 8am to 6pm, so that working parents can put in a regular day’s work and be sure that their kids are safe and secure.
Let’s give this region’s parents the support they deserve.
Sharon Hodgson is Shadow Women and Equalities Minister and Labour’s candidate for Washington and Sunderland West.