Concern is mounting over plans to limit the reach of Sure Start children’s centres, with key figures fearing the policy could have an adverse impact on social mobility.
Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg claimed the previous government had relied too heavily on “universal solutions” rather than targeted support, in his speech about the government’s ambition to improve social mobility. His words came after Prime Minister David Cameron had claimed children’s centres were dominated by “sharp-elbowed middle-classes”.
But Oxford University research fellow Naomi Eisenstadt, former director of the government’s Sure Start unit and the first chief adviser for children’s services, told CYP Now that ministers would be wrong to scrap universal Sure Start services.
“Half of the poor kids live in areas that are not poor, so to reach them we need universal services,” she said. “I would want most of the money invested in the poorest areas but a general level of service that is universal, like we do for schools. Nobody questions the need for (universal) school provision but we have never come to an agreement over provision for under-fives.”
Family Action’s policy director Rhian Beynon said removing universal services would stigmatise families that attend children’s centres and withdraw support from families as their social mobility improves. Childcare charity Daycare Trust also highlighted practical challenges in targeting Sure Start support, such as how to restrict access to families not considered disadvantaged.
Newly appointed social mobility tsar Alan Milburn published the report Unleashing Aspiration under Labour last year. He also pointed to the need for universal service, particularly in childcare, as a way of improving social mobility.