Cameron will announce plans for a parenting classes voucher scheme, claiming that all parents need help and that there is too little state-sponsored guidance on offer. Cameron will say that the government’s Life Chances Strategy will include a plan for ‘significantly expanding parenting provision’. Our glorious leader, the greatest Prime Minister since ….er….erm….erm…..*cough* who once accidentally left his daughter in a pub, is in his omnipotence willing to share his wisdom with the masses. Cameron is offering ‘parenting lessons’ meaning we mere plebeians can learn how to control our 19th century urchins, so they don’t have to go out and ‘pick a pocket or two‘.
Now, something strikes me as odd about Cameron stating there is ‘too little state-sponsored guidance on offer‘. First, I think it is because of his Conservative (quasi libertarian small state – except for the private firms that donate to his party & inexplicably get lucrative contracts with government departments – no red tape, political correctness/ health & safety gone mad common sense Guido Fawkes brigade ) ethos informing his past opposition to the evils and socialist decadence of the encroaching ‘nanny state’. So this strikes me as a tad hypocritical. Given that I don’t like David Cameron any opportunity to call him a hypocrite is one I will not miss (I wear my bias on my sleeve with him). So here I go:
DAVID CAMERON YOU ARE A MASSIVE HYPOCRITE!
Much better. Glad that is out of my system. Now on to my second and more important point: SureStart. SureStart is a programme started under Labour, providing childcare, access to health, education, parenting and employability support. Under Labour, more than £10bn was invested in Sure Start children’s centres to create a new ‘public service’ for children and families. They have been credited with changing the face of children and family services, identifying disadvantaged children/families and providing targeted support.
During Cameron’s premiership the government halved funding for SureStart (cuts of £431,844,582). More than 400 Sure Start children’s centres were closed during the first two years of the coalition government; with over half of those still open no longer able to provide onsite childcare. Sharon Hodgson MP considered David Cameron to have broken his promise to be the most family-friendly government:
Before the election, David Cameron said he would protect Sure Start. But on his watch we have seen over 400 children’s centres shut down, and the services they provide cut as well.
During 2014, two-thirds of England’s children’s centres, more than 2,300, were found to have had their budgets cut, according to the charity 4Children in its annual census. According to 4Children, a significant majority (70%) reported that they expect their budget to change, while just under a fifth (19%) expect no change. Around 11% of Centres were uncertain or did not wish to say. The census report showed that when asked those SureStart centres expecting a change in funding, an overwhelming proportion (82%) reported that their budget would decrease. The number of centres that stated they would have an increased budget was found to be marginal (less than 1%).
Year on year reductions to children’s centre budgets are a real cause for concern. Our census shows that cuts are directly impacting on their abilities to reach out and support families. The trend towards targeting services on the most vulnerable risks missing those families who we would otherwise only see through universal services. – Imelda Redmond, 4Children Chief Executive
During the 2015 election campaign Labour claimed that 269 Sure Start centres faced ‘the axe’ and that George Osborne’s Budget spending plans implied a further 786 closures between 2015 and 2019. In April 2o15 Tristram Hunt stated:
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 will do the same again.
In April 2010 there were 3,632 designated Sure Start children’s centres in England. The shadow education secretary (Lucy Powell MP) has said the Prime Minister is ‘fond of making speeches about families but absolutely woeful in following through‘. Under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition SureStart faced heavy cuts as a result of dwindling council budgets. Hundreds have been closed, either by shutting down entirely or through mergers.
In opposition he claimed he wanted to deliver ‘the most family friendly government ever’ but the actions of his government – the closure of hundreds of Sure Start children’s centres, huge cuts to family support services, tax credit and welfare changes for example – have left many, many more families in crisis – Lucy Powell MP
The Coalition government removed the ring fence on Sure Start funding, which immediately made Sure Start vulnerable from cuts to local council funding exported by central government. In 2010, when a voter asked David Cameron to commit to current funding, he gave his unreserved support, and accused Labour of scaremongering, saying:
Yes, we back Sure Start. It’s a disgrace that Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this. He’s the prime minister of this country but he’s been scaring people about something that really matters – David Cameron, 5 May 2010
Yet the facts speak for themselves, and as usual Cameron offers only empty rhetoric. For a government ostensibly committed to social mobility (my giddy aunt) the decimation of SureStart is remarkable. In October 2015, Shadow childcare and early years Minister, Pat Glass, stated:
David Cameron pledged to protect Sure Start but parents and children are paying the price for his broken promises as budget cuts bite. Services are being slashed and the future of this vital family service is in question. The Government’s talk of prioritising social mobility will ring hollow if ministers do not champion early intervention services so that children get the best start in life
Again we see an example of the short-termism inherent in Conservative governance. For the short term savings instigation of cuts to local council budgets have impacted on government programmes that provide incalculable benefits. Austerity policies implemented by Osborne degrade the life chances of those who need the support of SureStart centres. Pressure on parents, costs for private childcare, nutritional & healthcare issues. All are likely exacerbated in some way but the cuts. It is the cut now, pay later mentality; yes in the short-term Osborne can shave a few hundred million by cutting funding to local councils, which therefore impacts on budgets to things like SureStart, but the long term consequences of such policy decisions are not calculated or considered in implementation. Spending on such projects has multiplier effects in the long term, the initial spending or ‘investment’ in the future of children through early years support & learning, will reap dividends in terms of social mobility, security, education & health.
It has been shown that the early years (when brain development is at its most rapid) offers the best chance to improve the life chances of the poorest. By cutting and slashing SureStart and projects which support young children from poorer backgrounds, Osborne’s policies impact negatively in the long term on their life chances. Scandinavian countries, which have invested heavily in children’s services for decades, now enjoy the highest rates of social mobility in the world.
Research from the University of Bristol, has concluded that:
Much of the educational disadvantage of those from poorer families is evident before children enter the school system ….. making early years education and parenting a key issue for promoting social mobility
Further, the Equality & Human Rights Commission, engaging in a review of academic literature on the matter of early learning & its impact on ‘life chances’, identified a:
substantial intergenerational persistence – ‘Early Years, Life Chances & Equality: A Literature Review, Paul Johnson and Yulia Kossykh, Research Report 7, Equality & Human Rights Commission
This review concludes:
Child poverty and social deprivation are among the main explanatory factors for poor life outcomes and tackling these further is likely to be the most effective way of improving equality of lifetime opportunities and outcomes.
The point of greatest ‘leverage’ for social mobility is what happens to children between ages 0 and 3. With Osborne and the Conservatives continued ‘attack’ on the budgets & funding for programmes like SureStart, the casualty is social mobility & the life chances of the poorest children. Cameron is all talk.
By Frederick Antonio Gallucci | International Law LLM | @gibblegbble