Tessa Jowell: I’ll restore Sure Start to its founding principles

As Sure Start Centres across the country continue to face the risk of closure, a new campaign policy by Labour politician Tessa Jowell seeks to re-establish Sure Start as a community mission – bringing professionals, families and volunteers together to give every child the best start in life

Earlier this month, Tessa Jowell announced plans to combat the inequality in the first three years children’s lives by renewing and re-focusing Sure Start in London.

In running for Mayor of London, Tessa says that if she is elected she will restore the founding purposes of London-cantered Sure Start by redirecting the scheme towards the nurture of young children.

The importance of the first 1,000 days

A multitude of studies have shown that how children are treated in the first 1,000 days from conception to their second birthday shapes the lives of children – and ultimately our society. Loving, secure and reliable relationships with parents and a good quality home learning environment can foster a child’s emotional well-being, language and brain development (80% of brain development takes place by age three), and their ability to form healthy relationships.

Research has demonstrated that when a baby’s development falls behind the normal range during the first year of life, it is then much more likely to continue to fall even further behind as the years pass.

Nobel Laureate Professor James Heckman has pointed out that the most efficient way of reducing lifetime inequality is to spend money on early years interventions. Investment is children’s early development in the first 1000 days is likely to deliver more economic and social benefits than reactive services afterwards – and have an important role in making sure that children reach school ready to learn and

Early intervention gives many more children a platform to lead happier and healthier lives, and make them more able to achieve to the best of their abilities. Supporting young families in a way that recognises the importance of this period will give more children the attributes they need to thrive and succeed.

Rebuilding Sure Start

Tessa, who was one of the architects of Sure Start along with David Blunkett, intends to use the money from the Olympic precept to build a £61 million a year fund to support development in a child’s first 1000 days, supported by local authorities.

Speaking about her plans, Tessa said: “Too often when we look at inequality we focus exclusively on asset wealth, but actually just as pernicious is the inequality of capacity and capability – the unequal chances of early childhood.

“I know the value of its original mission: to support families and help overcome early childhood disadvantage.

“Families bring up children but families who are coping with a range of disadvantages so often long for help and support in what can be a lonely time. That’s what I want Sure Start in London to provide.”

As a result of government cuts to local authority budgets, spending on Sure Start in London has been reduced from £337 million in 2010/11 to just £215 million in 2013/14.

This reduction in spending has been reflected across the country, with many centres either seeing a reduction in the services they are able to provide or closing entirely.

If Tessa Jowell’s campaign is successful, it may re-instate the idea that Sure Start children’s centres are not only a focal point for families, but also serve to bring the wider community around in a renewed mission to give every child the best start in life.