Charities express fears over 36% cut to Sure Start centres

28 Sep 18

Charities fear children will be left open to “neglect and abuse” as local authorities have drastically cut their spending on children’s centres in England over the past five years.  

Planned spend on children’s Sure Start centres has fallen by 36% (£355m) from £985m in 2014-15 to £630m in 2018-19, government figures released yesterday have shown. 

This represents a fall from £78 spend per child in 2014-15 to just £45 in 2018-19, according to the Department for Education’s planned local authority expenditure figures for this year.

The spend from 2017-18 to this year on Sure Start centres has dropped 5%, from £661m last year.

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at the charity Action for Children, said: “We know from our own work that without the safety net of well-funded early help services like children’s centres, thousands of children at risk of abuse, neglect or domestic violence are being left to fend for themselves until problems spiral out of control.

“This failure to act with the right help, at the right time, will inevitably have devastating consequences for some children that last a lifetime.”

Action for Children has done its own analysis of the figures - accounting for inflation by applying retail price index (RPI) measurements - and calculated there has been a real-terms cut of 42% for budgets in children’s centres since 2014-15.

Budgets for early intervention children’s services fell by 26% (£743m) over the same period, according to the charity’s analysis.

Hussain added: “Crippling cuts in government funding are putting councils in an impossible position, leaving them with no option but to cut budgets for vital early help services that protect vulnerable children.”

Peter Lampl, founder of Sutton Trust, told PF: “High quality early years provision is crucial to the development of children from the poorest homes.

“Our own research shows that the number of Sure Start centres has declined dramatically over the past decade.

“The drastic cuts in funding over the past five years means that hundreds of thousands of families are missing out on the vital support they provide.”

Shadow children’s minister Emma Lowell-Buck told PF: “Children’s services are a vital lifeline to thousands of vulnerable children and their families across the country, yet the Tories have imposed cuts to local government funding that are making it impossible for councils to deliver them.

“Every pound the Tories have taken means a service lost to the families who most need the support. Even worse, the cuts have been targeted at the early help that is most effective at transforming lives.”

Labour would invest an extra £500 million in Sure Start as part of a major expansion of early years support, she pledged.

The government data out yesterday also revealed spending on schools by local authorities - 80% of the expenditure on young people - is expected to go up from £42.8bn last year to £44.3bn in 2018-19, which is a nominal rise of 3.7%.

Spending per pupil by councils in England will rise this year, from £4,475 in 2017-18 to £4,647 in 2018-19.

Since 2014-15 there has been a 12% rise in local authority planned spend on schools - from £39.6bn five years ago. 

But the Local Government Association suggested this was a “real-terms cut” since 2015. 

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “To make sure every school is adequately funded, the government should provide greater certainty over future funding by introducing three-year budgets, and ensure that the overall level is sufficient for all schools.

“It should also allow councils to be able to work with schools to set budgets that reflect local need.”

In August, the County Councils Network calculated an overspend by English councils of £800m on children’s services.

The Children’s Commissioner for England recently told PF that councils must have greater clarity on minimum statutory requirements for councils to provide children’s services.

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