Sunday, 30 January 2011

Cutting Sure Start would be an own goal for the future of our children.

The children are the future, a clichéd sentiment perhaps but one that also happens to be true. One of the things by which a country is judged is the way it treats its children and at the moment Britain is at risk of failing that test.

At least it is if the awful possibility of 250 Sure Start centres in England closing due to funding cuts suggested by a survey conducted for the charities The Day-care Trust and 4Children becomes a reality. Half of the 900 centre managers who responded to the survey said they expected their funding to be cut and 7% expected their centre to close as a result.

Defending what looks like a savage blow to the front line services the coalition government pledged to protect from the worst ravages of the cuts Children’s Minister Sarah Teather told the BBC on Friday there was enough money to maintain the current service and reminded local authorities of their legal duty to provide an adequate number of children’s centres and to consult with the public before making closures.

All very correct I’m sure, but it doesn’t sidestep that under the Early Intervention Grant, touted by the government as a way of supporting threatened children’s centres the funding on offer would be 11% lower than that available previously.

Anne Longfield of 4Children said that children from vulnerable families depended on access to Sure Start and that ‘although local authorities have some extremely difficult spending decisions to make’ protecting services for children from disadvantaged families now would ‘lead to real savings in the long term.’

Anand Shukla, the acting Chief Executive of the Day-care Trust said that ‘behind every children’s centre facing closure is a community of families devastated to be losing one of their most valued local services.’

Helen Donohoe head of public policy at Action for Children called the plans to cut funding for Sure Start ‘a financial own-goal’ on the part of the government saying that children should not ‘bear the human cost of the country’s deficit,’ before making the point that providing support to families from an early stage meant it was more likely to work in the long term.

I don’t know if you can score an own-goal in the Eton Wall Game, but it is clear that that is exactly what out over privileged and out of touch government is about to do on this important issue. David Cameron, in his cuddly ‘Dave’ incarnation has always been enthusiastic about displaying his credentials as a family man. In private that might well be true, but in terms of public policy his attitudes make the Child Catcher from Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang seem like Mary Poppins.

The flaws of New Labour were legion and probably don’t need to be rehearsed again here, but for all their tendency to try and control everything from the centre they did have some laudable ideas. One of which was that the best way to break the cycle of disadvantage and dependency is to intervene early and to provide consistent support, something that Sure Start has done magnificently from day one; so why are the government so keen to kill it off now?

It has, in part, much to do with a desire to trash every aspect of their predecessor’s belief that everything can’t be handed over to the whims of the market; but mostly it is due to the malign influence of TINA.

Who she you might ask, not, alas the protagonist in a Profumo style scandal but the acronym for the biggest flaw in the thinking of the men and women currently in Downing Street, there is no alternative is their answer to every question raised about the pace and direction of the spending cuts. We are sold the line that every lost service is the direct consequence of circumstances beyond the control of the government; that is a flat lie.

If the government used existing legislation and a little backbone to set about collecting unpaid taxes from the likes of Top Shop and Vodaphone there would be no need to slash public services to the bone. They won’t though, because the sad truth about a government that claims to be taking a tough line on the economy is that they are afraid to stand up to the banks and big business; so they pick on children instead.

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