The health effects of Sure Start recognised

New research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found that Sure Start centres have has largely positive impacts and brought big benefits for children’s health.

However, despite their apparent success, the think tank warns that funding has been cut and 500 sites have closed, with the Local Government Association saying that councils have ‘done all they can within ever tightening budgets’.

Examining the effect of Sure Start, an early intervention policy designed to support the wellbeing of children before they started school, the report finds that the provision of Sure Start centres ‘significantly reduced’ the incidence of children going to hospital up to the age of 11. The study found that for every one Sure Start centre per thousand children there were 5,000 fewer hospital admissions for 11-year-olds each year.

While levels of childhood obesity were not significantly affected by Sure Start, the authors of the report claim that the benefits found are strongest for children living in disadvantaged areas.

In 2010 spending on Sure Start centres peaked at £1.8 billion but was cut by two-thirds to £600 million by 2017-18 - and about 500 centres closed during that period.

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “As this report shows, children’s centres can provide a lifeline for children, parents and carers, offering an incredibly important service in the local community. This could be anything from advice for parents on physical and mental health, caring for a new-born, or simply a place for children to enjoy free-play and interact with one another.

“While many councils have adapted well to the funding pressures and changed how they provide children’s centre services, in particular to target those communities most in need of support, there is a growing sense that councils have done all they can within ever tightening budgets. It is inevitable that without new investment from government in children’s services, councils will face the difficult but unavoidable decision of having to cut or close early help services such as children’s centres.

“Children’s services face a £3.1 billion funding gap by 2025. This is why it is hugely important that the Government delivers a long-term sustainable funding solution for children’s services in this year’s Spending Review.”