HC Deb 01 July 2004 vol 423 cc419-22
2. James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab)

What research the Department has conducted into the effect of Sure Start on children's development. [181593]

10. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of the impact of Sure Start in assisting children with their education. [181603]

The Minister for Children (Margaret Hodge)

We are undertaking a national evaluation of Sure Start. Early findings already show that children attending pre-school education do better than those staying at home full-time, and that disadvantaged children benefit most. Local evaluations of Sure Start local programmes show that they are also making an impact for parents and children in a variety of ways, including cutting the number of children entering school with a special educational needs statement, cutting emergency referrals to social services, improving breast-feeding rates, cutting smoking in pregnancy, reducing postnatal depression, improving speech and language development, and helping parents to find work.

James Purnell

That research was fully reflected at the meeting that I had last Friday at Hyde Sure Start, when was told by Stacey Isles that Sure Start had completely changed her life. All the parents there asked me to come back to the House and ask the Government to guarantee that the money for sure Start would continue after the text general election Can my right hon. Friend give my Hyde Sure Start parents that guarantee?

Margaret Hodge

We are currently considering the implications of the very generous settlement for early years education that the Chancellor gave us in the Budget, which involves a 17 per cent. real-terms increase n spending every year over the coming spending review Period. We shall give priority to ensuring the continuation of programmes that are now proven to be affective.

Mr. Speaker

Jonathan Shaw.

Jonathan Shaw

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker— [Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. This Shaw did lot get off to a very good start, did he? Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what consideration she has given to the new developments in the proposals for children's centres, and how they are to link in with the development of schools services and the child-centred approach outlined n the Green Paper "Every Child Matters"? It is vital that all those different components join up and that Sure Start forms an integral part of that programme. What is more, it needs to be an integral part of many more communities. We have 500, but we need 500 more.

Margaret Hodge

We are ensuring that the Sure Start principles are embedded in the development of the children's centre programmes. That means bringing together all the services that impact on a child and their family's life in their early years, around the needs of that child. We are ensuring, that throughout our radical transformation of children's services, with the introduction of both children's trusts and extended schools. My hon. Friend is right to point out that using schools as a non-stigmatised safe environment in which to build many of those services is the appropriate way to go. I look not just for 500 more Sure Start programmes but for a Sure Start children's centre in every community in this country.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD)

Liberal Democrats welcome the Sure Start programme and we want to add our congratulations on the 524 centres that celebrated that programme last month. For many of our poorest families Sure Start is an irrelevance, because it simply does not exist. The Daycare Trust has done some research, which shows that 600,000 children aged under three, from some of our poorest families, have no access—only one child in 14 has access—to a free or subsidised place. When will the Minister guarantee that the poorest children in this land will get access t o quality child care before the age of three? Does she agree that the irrelevance of the money being given to son e of the wealthiest parents in this country through the child trust fund—£1 billion in the next Parliament—could be better spent on dealing with and providing education in early years settings for some of our poorest children from our poorest families?

Margaret Hodge

Before this Government came into office, there was no Sure Start programme, no free part-time nursery education for every three and four-year-old, and no national child care strategy. Since we have been in government, we have created more than 500 Sure Start programmes, we have free part-time nursery education for the first time ever, with a new frontier for the welfare state for every three am four-year-old, and we have created more than 1 million new child care places for nearly 2 million children. We will carry on developing our existing programmes, which will spread to more children living in poverty. It is not a question of doing one thing rather than another—building an asset base for children, particularly the poorest, so that when they come of age at 18 they have some of their own money to invest in their future, s as important as ensuring that through education care and health provision they get the very best start.

Finally. the £18 billion cuts that the Conservative party intends to—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Sally Keeble.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab)

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) said, the two Sure Starts in my constituency are incredibly focused on the disadvantaged, and have transformed the lives of those children. However, can my right hon. Friend say how the benefits will spread? As she knows, in constituencies such as Northampton, North, where many women work shifts and have flexible working arrangements, there is a huge need for much wider provision, which must work flexibly so that parents can mix and match child care for their working day, and get the same quality of services as is available in Sure Start.

Margaret Hodge

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that Sure Start transforms the lives of many individual children and their families. I spend much of my time visiting Sure Start programmes. Whenever I talk to a Sure Start mum, the main thing that they say is that the isolation of coming home in the first few days when they have a new baby is completely mitigated by being able to access the services from Sure Start. We need more, and we need to ensure that what we offer is flexible to fit in with the different working patterns that many parents have today. I take those points, and I am considering them as we take forward our programme with the generous financial settlement that the Chancellor gave us.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab)

When my right hon. Friend looks at various forms of Sure Start provision, will she look at some in my constituency? There is a children's centre at Highfield on the edge of a very Asian area, and another at Guardhouse, on the edge of a white area. Will my right hon. Friend consider the impact on those two communities of getting children together at an early age? In my constituency it is unusual to see white and Asian kids together This provision gives Asian kids the advantage of speaking English before going to school, and I hope that eventually it will have an effect on white children and parents, moving them away from the terrible impact of the British National party.

Margaret Hodge

I spent yesterday looking at Sure Start programmes in Blackburn, which face issues similar to those in my hon. Friend's constituency. Steps are being taken to ensure that children from different communities and backgrounds come together, build respect for each other's communities and are properly integrated without assimilating their varying cultures. We need to use these excellent early years facilities to break down some of the intolerance and suspicion that all too often exist in communities throughout Britain.