Years of funding cuts to children’s centres mean some of the poorest and most vulnerable families in Britain have nowhere to turn for help and support, a leading charity has warned.
A daming new report by UK charity Action for Children reveals that between 2014/15 and 2017/18 average spending by councils on children’s centres, including ‘Sure Start Centres, fell from £532 to just £412 per child.
As council funding was reduced the number of children and families supported by children’s centre’s plummeted by almost a fifth (18%).
Worryingly, the number of children from the most deprived areas of the country using children’s centre’s has fallen by a shocking 22%.
Action for Children says the latest analysis suggests a direct corrolation between the average developmental gap shrinking in areas where children’s centre use has increased, and a widening of the gap in areas where numbers have declined.
According to the charity, in the last three years alone more than 800,000 children started school below the expected developmental milestones. 168,000 of these were from low-income households.
Children’s Centres reach as many young children as health visiting and government-funded childcare combined.
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “Children’s centres have seen their budgets slashed by almost two-thirds since 2010.
“This has left them unable to continue to reach families across communities, leaving many thousands of new parents with nowhere to turn for early help support – a far cry from the idea of easily-accessible, one-stop-shops within pram-pushing distance.
“From helping parents manage difficult behaviour and embed routines for their children, there are few things with which they’re not equipped to help.
“Crucially, they’re often the first place to identify serious issues like abuse and neglect and step in before problems spiral out of control.
“The government must use the forthcoming Spending Review to allocate additional funding to local councils and ease the squeeze on children’s centre budgets.
“Giving children the best start in life is not only the right thing to do but helps to reduce the need for costly child protection services for when things go wrong.”
Tracy Brabin MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Early Years, said: “The Tories have slashed funding to local government, and vital services like children’s centres are being lost across the country, with the poorest areas hit the hardest.
“These regressive and unjustifiable cuts have led to hundreds of thousands of children and families losing out on the support that children’s centres can offer.
“The next Labour government will invest in our children and their families, including an extra £500 million in ring-fenced funding for Sure Start.”