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Government risks Sure Start success, according to new IFS report

By Rachel Lawler
Sure Start Funding
The Alliance has called on the government to reinvest in Sure Start centres after a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that the programme had a “big positive effect on children’s health [and] reducing hospitalisations”.
The IFS reported that spending on the Sure Start programmed peaked in 2010 at £1.8 billion a year, in current prices, but has since seen its budget cut by two-thirds with more than 500 centres now closed and many more reducing services.
Fewer hospitalisations
The report also found that the Sure Start programme significantly reduced hospitalisations in children by the time they finish primary school. By age 11, Sure Start prevents around 5,500 hospitalisations each year.
The IFS also noted that the benefit of Sure Start centres was clearest in disadvantaged areas. With the most advantaged areas not seeing any improvement in hospitalisations.
Spending Review
With the upcoming Spending Review, the IFS has called on the government to review the impact of Sure Start and decide on how the programme will be used going forward.
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.”

Vital work
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said: “Few people with experience of Sure Start centres will be surprised by these findings because we’ve always understood the vital work they do.
“What is shocking, however, is the carelessness with which the government has treated these invaluable community assets. Successive ministers now have overseen the mismanaged decline of Sure Start. What began with a ‘temporary’ pause on inspections has led to hundreds of closures and forced dozens of centres to step back from delivering frontline services.
“If ministers were ever serious about social mobility then now would be the time to show it. This report makes clear what’s at stake and the government should be questioning where their indifference has left some of our most vulnerable children - and start reinvesting in and reaffirming their support for Sure Start immediately.”
Critical role
Tracy Brabin MP, shadow early years minister, added: “This research shows the critical role Sure Start plays in children’s health, as well as their development. But shamefully, over a thousand Sure Start centres have been lost through years of austerity, meaning children and families across the country are missing out. 
“It’s heart breaking that such a vital service, which helps disadvantaged children the most, has had two thirds of its funding cut since the Tories came to power in 2010. Labour will end the cuts, provide sustainable funding for councils and invest £500m in Sure Start to ensure that families and children get the support they need in the early years when we know it makes a huge difference.”
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