Liberal Democrats believe in a society where every young person, no matter what their background or circumstance, can grow up to achieve anything they set their mind to. Education is key to a fairer society, and early education sets the very foundation on which this society is built – children who miss out on the earliest support are much less likely to catch up at a later stage of their lives.
Against this background, it is a tragedy that over 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres may have closed down in the last ten years. Sure start centres are not nurseries, but they provide invaluable support for parents of children under five, including drop in centres, information about childcare and access to a range of multi-disciplinary teams of professionals, for free. For some children, they make all the difference between falling behind and achieving their potential in later life.
According to a recent National Audit Office report, Sure Start budgets in England were reduced by £763m (50%) between 2010 and 2017, as councils focused scarce funds on child protection services. Official government figures reported 500 closures of Sure Start centres since 2010, but a lack of clarity in how individual centres are identified and changes are reported means that the real number could be twice as high. Frozen council tax and further cuts to council funding will inevitably put pressure on existing centres in Hammersmith and Fulham such as the wonderful Masbro Centre.
Liberal Democrats call for a modest increase in Council tax to ensure the future of Sure Start children’s centres. At national level, they propose to triple the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1000 – giving children from disadvantaged backgrounds the best start in life.