Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 13th January 2021

Decades of research, across a range of fields, has repeatedly highlighted children’s early years are the most important of their lives. If you can ensure the right conditions for development in that crucial formative period, you set the ground for a lifetime of improved health and better economic opportunities.

It was this awareness which led the last Labour Government to set-up Sure Start in 1998, providing young families with a range of support designed to give children the best start in life. Over the years, studies have increasingly highlighted just how successful Sure Start has been in achieving its aims, with research in 2019 identifying it had already saved the NHS millions of pounds of expenditure through improving the general health of children.

The bedrock of Sure Start were the children and family centres, first set-up in Crawley in Bewbush and Broadfield, before being rolled out across the whole of the town over the following ten years. As a flagship programme of the last Labour Government, central government ensured the funding went directly to the centres, guaranteeing they had the revenue they needed to function.

Unfortunately, all of this changed in 2010, with the new Conservative Government making West Sussex County Council responsible for funding them and they are now proposing the closure of children and family centres across the county, including almost all the centres in Crawley. Be in no doubt, this is effectively the end of Sure Start for families in Crawley.

Times are tough for councils, I know that better than most, but this is a false economy. Sure Start has proven that improving the health and opportunities of children not only gives them a better quality of life, it saves the public sector a small fortune in the long-term. For a town which already has the lowest social mobility in the South East, this is a cut we cannot afford.

Labour councillors have kicked off a petition to try to persuade West Sussex County Council that they are making the wrong choice and almost 10,000 local residents have already registered their opposition. To make your voice heard go to: http://www.change.org/p/west-sussex-county-council-halt-the-planned-cuts-to-west-sussex-children-and-family-centres

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