Photo: Paul Mattsson
Photo: Paul Mattsson

Eleanor Donne, Essex Socialist Party

Gordon Brown and other ‘veterans’ of the last Labour government have called on Keir Starmer to bring back Sure Start. The scheme, introduced in 1998, provided integrated support and advice on health, education, childcare and employment for parents and carers of children aged 0 to 5. By 2010, there were over 3,000 Sure Start children’s centres across England – concentrated in poorer areas and seen as a lifeline by many struggling parents. Sure Start may have been one of New Labour’s ‘Greatest Hits’ but it came at a price – the abolition of free university education. Students in higher education had to pay tuition fees for the first time and working-class students in particular have been saddled with a lifetime of debt as a result.

Brown references a recent Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) report which found that pupils in areas with Sure Start centres got better grades in their GCSEs eleven years later and that the improvement was more marked for children getting free school meals, i.e. from households with lower incomes. The ‘Evaluation of Children’s Centres Project 2009 to 2015’ found that attending a Sure Start centre would “improve the mental health of mothers and functioning of families but that these benefits are being eroded by cuts.”

Since 2010, around 1,300 Sure Start children’s centres have closed due to council cuts following Tory attacks on central government funding. Communities campaigned to save them but, in the main, Labour councils have implemented cuts rather than mount a co-ordinated and determined fight for more money from the Tory government. Brown has yet to convince Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary, who has failed to commit to any further funding from a Labour government for Sure Start children’s centres.

Support and parenting advice is very important and can be life-changing. But it cannot make up for not having enough money to buy food or heat your home. For the 4.3 million children living in poverty, or the 41% of Universal Credit claimants who have been ‘food insecure’, life is a hugely stressful daily struggle – and it shouldn’t be.

The Socialist Party fights for the following measures as vital first steps towards improving children’s life chances and will campaign for an incoming Labour government to implement them:

  • Abolish the benefit cap and the two-child limit on Universal Credit. This would immediately lift around 1 million children out of poverty. Labour has, so far, committed not to do this
  • Raise the minimum wage to at least £15 per hour and fight for pay rises to end in-work poverty
  • Full public funding for a network of free, high-quality, flexible childcare from birth, including before- and after-school and holiday care
  • No council cuts, fully fund services, make the super-rich pay
  • Build a new mass workers’ party
  • Fight for socialist change