CHILDREN’S life chances are being hit by £5.4million of funding cuts to Sure Start and childcare services in Sunderland, claim Wearside MPs.
Prime Minister David Cameron has taken flak over funding cuts for children’s services – which amount to £80 per child in the city – from opponents who say he promised to protect Sure Start.
The Government programme provides services for pre-school children and their families, and Tories say they remain committed to improving such services.
Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott said: “Sure Start was a massive success story for the previous Labour government, aimed at giving all children an equal start in life. No wonder this Government seems so intent on dismantling it.
“Another day, another broken promise, another vindictive cut and more vulnerable people hit. Nothing is safe with this Government. They are hollowing out of the state at a rate which would make Thatcher blush.”
Ms Elliott said funding for the Early Intervention Grant which provides services for children in Sunderland such as Sure Start and childcare is being cut by 26 per cent.
Durham will lose £60 per child – £7.3million in total, a 24.1 per cent cut – and South Tyneside’s grant will drop 23.4 per cent to £2.6million, £80 per child.
Ms Elliott said: “Further cuts to Sunderland’s Early Intervention Grant will take place in 2012-13. In comparison to 2010-11, the grant’s funding allocation in real terms is down 26.1 per cent.”
Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson, who also serves as Shadow Children’s Minister, claimed analysis of the reductions showed Sunderland would lose a total £13.5million over the next three years – the seventh highest cut in the UK.
The national average of cuts is £50 per child compared to the £80 per head lost in Sunderland.
Mrs Hodgson said: “The Prime Minister made a personal promise to protect and build on Sure Start. Now we know that these were just hollow words and yet another broken promise to the families of Sunderland.
“Of course all services need to look to be more efficient, but cuts which go too far and too fast will mean poorer services for children and families in my area, and maybe even a loss of some Sure Start Centres.
“They provide real help to thousands of children and parents across the city, and it would be a real tragedy if some of them were forced to close when they have just begun to pay real dividends.”
The MPs’ remarks have been rebuffed by Sunderland Conservatives education spokesman Robert Oliver, who said the Coalition Government would actually improve children’s services.
He said: “The Coalition Government is committed to improving the life chances of young people, but will do so in a way that works rather than use costly schemes which do not deliver the required results.
“Sure Start was slammed in a Durham University report which said it ‘was not delivering improvements in language and numeracy development’.
“It is simply not lifting poor families out of poverty despite the vast amounts of public money being spent.”
Coun Oliver said the Coalition intends to increase the number of health visitors and focus Sure Start on the poorest families and dismissed Ms Elliott’s “wild comments”.
He added: “Given that a fifth of children in Sunderland are living in poverty after 13 years of a Labour Government, it is a cheek to start complaining given the amount of money spent which has clearly not delivered results.”
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