More than 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres could be forced to close if the Conservatives are elected in May’s general election, say Labour.
Labour warns that ‘extreme’ Tory spending cuts would have a disastrous effect on thousands of working families with childcare needs.
According to Labour, spending cuts under the Tory-led coalition government have led to hundreds of Sure Start centres being mothballed or closed. This has resulted in a dramatic fall of 40,000 in the number of available childcare places for working parents.
Tristram Hunt, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “The Tories pose a real threat to Sure Start – a service relied on by thousands of working families.
“Before the last election, David Cameron said he would protect Sure Start but since then there are hundreds fewer centres. If they get in again they’ll do the same again. Their extreme plans mean over 1,000 of the remaining centres face the axe.
“Working families can’t afford five more years of this failing Tory plan. We need Labour’s better plan, which will revive Sure Start, provide more childcare places and extend free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds.”
A survey in 2014 found that 1.05 million families were using Sure Start children’s centres, an increase of 50,000 on the previous year.
The vital services they provide have been credited for providing support to some of the most disadvantaged children and families.
Despite their popularity, the coalition government removed ringfenced funding for Sure Start, which has resulted in an enormous strain being placed on their budgets.
Responsibility for funding Sure Start centres was handed down to local authorities, who have had to weather an average 40% cut in total funding from central government.
A Freedom of Information request by Labour in January 2013, found that funding for Sure Start centres had been cut by around one-third in just two years – a real-terms reduction of nearly £432 million.
Meanwhile, childcare costs for children under the age of two have skyrocketed by a shocking 33% since 2010. The cost of a part-time nursery placement in Britain has increased to an average of £115.45 a week.
Despite financial support for childcare costs provided through tax credits, many low-income parents are finding themselves as much as £52.50 a week worse off due to rising childcare costs.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The astronomical cost of childcare in the UK means that for many families work simply does not pay.
“The closure of any more Sure Start children’s centres, especially after years of cuts to childcare tax credits, would make an already bad situation even worse.
“Those who do work often end up having to go without just so they can pay the nursery fees.
“The next government should move to end this childcare nightmare instead of increasing the burden on hard-pressed families across the country.
“Sure Start centres are a vital lifeline for many of the UK’s poorest households and must be protected.”