Whitehaven News column – 14th August 2014

Unsure Start

Last week, I highlighted the work of the Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome and the Cumbrian Welfare Reform Commission’s report on Government reforms and the effect on people in West Cumbria.  Today I want to focus on some of those most affected by Government policy over the last four years: Children.
The failing welfare reforms have placed a high financial burden on families that can ill-afford it.  1 in 5 mums in the UK today regularly skip meals in order to feed their children.  This isn’t right.
Before the last General Election, the Labour Government introduced Sure Start to ensure that every family could ensure that from their earliest years, children were able to get the support and assistance that they needed.  Time and again, study after study has shown that early intervention in Children’s lives boost attainment and life opportunity for that child.  Every family wants the best for their children and Sure Start is a vital tool to help families achieve that.  The evidence that Sure Start works is overwhelming and even David Cameron claimed to back it.  Before the last election, Labour warned that under a Conservative Government, Sure Start would be under threat, but David Cameron accused Labour of “scaremongering”.  Just four years later 628 Children’s Centres have closed which averages out at 3 per week.  On the Government’s watch a further 482 have reduced hours and 10% of those that remain have reduced services.
The Government’s own report into Sure Start outlined a worrying picture.  Published last year, the report from the Department for Education said:
“For some, the reorganisation had meant reduced centre hours or centre sessions as well as reduced partnership working.  Other struggled to maintain the expertise of current senior staff, whom might be at risk of relocation or redundancy.”
Sure Start is at the centre of widely shared values; of giving every child the best start yet the Government have put the service under threat.  The centres are under-staffed, under resourced and under pressure.  Rather than letting the service wither on the vine, the Government needs to take bold steps to ensure that this vital service for families remains effective, but it can’t do this, if senior staff are lost.

The ONS have revealed that earnings for most people are falling in real terms, the Child Poverty Action Group and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have published a report showing the cost of raising children is rising.  The Government’s approach has failed and it is families who rely on these services and their children who are paying the price.  Rather than promoting partnerships and working closely with Local Authorities, the Government is creating division and alienation; neither of which is conducive to effective public services.  Council budgets have been cut to the bone and key services which add a lot of support to those who need it most are the ones that are being lost.  In the face of all the evidence which supports increased early intervention to improve the life chances of children, the Government have done nothing.

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