MP backs campaign to fight to keep '˜vital' children's centres

A South Yorkshire MP has backed a charity's campaign to fight for the future of 'vital' children's centres, as hubs in her own constituency face the axe as the local authority looks to save half a million pounds.

Poorer children are less prepared for school, say Action for Children. Picture:: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Sarah Champion said levels of school-readiness had dropped to almost 50 per cent for poorer children in her constituency, as Rotherham Council looks to save cash by closing a quarter of its children’s centres. She is backing a campaign by charity Action For Children which argues every child should be given “the best start in life” and calls on the Government to ensure early years services are not forgotten as minister focus on Brexit.

The Sutton Trust estimates that more than 1,000 children’s centres have closed since 2009 - twice as many as the Government reports. Even using the lower official figures, Yorkshire lost 41 children’s centres between 2010 and 2016.

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Action for Children say the hubs are vital to address the inequalities in school readiness faced by children from poorer background. It says spending on early years services has fallen by nearly £800m since 2010 and this reduction has left many families from poorer backgrounds without the support they rely on.

Labour MP for Rotherham, Ms Champion said: “The earliest years of a child’s life are the best opportunity to improve social mobility but, in 2016/17, almost a third of five-year-olds in Rotherham weren’t ready to make the most of the classroom when they started school. This rises to over 40 per cent for children from poorer backgrounds, and levels of school-readiness have fallen for this group of children in the last year. Many won’t catch up without extra support, yet spending on children’s centres and other services which provide help has fallen by over 50 per cent since 2010. We know only too well what this means in communities like ours in Rotherham, where the council is looking at the future of early help to see how savings can be made.”

Rotherham has finished a public consultation on plans to reduce children’s centres from 12 to nine as part of a range of measures to save over £500,000. If approved by the Council’s cabinet in October, the three centres: Park View, Wath Victoria and Broom Valley, will close next year. Some services will be re-located in other buildings, such as schools.

Director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, Imran Hussain, told the Yorkshire Post it was clear that early years support “doesn’t feature on the Government’s list of priorities”.

He said: “Vital hubs of support, along with the services they provide, are being lost as funding continues to fall and spending is diverted away from early help and towards crisis interventions. Many local authorities are reeling from the huge cuts landed on them. This cannot continue.”