Labour targets Cameron's broken promises on Sure Start

Before the election, Cameron said it was "a disgrace that Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this", but 579 of the childrens' centres have since closed.

Among the content erased from the Conservatives' site last week were David Cameron's pre-election pledges on Sure Start - and with good reason. The day before the general election, Cameron promised to protect the network of children's centres founded by Labour, telling one voter who asked "whether these centres will continue to receive funding": "Yes, we back Sure Start. It's a disgrace that Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this. He's the prime minister of this country but he's been scaring people about something that really matters."

Based on this answer, many reasonably assumed that Sure Start, like the NHS and foreign aid, would be ring-fenced from cuts. Indeed, at PMQs on 2 March 2011, Cameron told the House of Commons that Sure Start funding was protected and that "centres do not need to close". But the truth was otherwise. Shortly after the coalition came to power, the budget for the centres was amalgamated into a new "early intervention grant", which received a real-terms cut of 22.4 per cent.

The result, as I first revealed in 2011, is that centres soon began to close. Today, as Ed Miliband shifts his attention to childcare in the latest stage of his "cost of living" offensive, Labour is rightly highlighting figures showing that 578 have now closed since the election. The Department for Education has responded by insisting that just 45 have closed (which still represents a breach of Cameron's promise), but its own figures suggest otherwise.

Miliband said today: "Millions of parents are facing a childcare crunch. The cost of a nursery place is now the highest in history, at more than £100 a week to cover part-time hours. That means a typical parent doing a part time job would have to work from Monday until Thursday just to cover these costs of childcare. And average costs for a full time place are now rising up to £200 or even more.

"Rising prices have been matched only by falling numbers of places. And hundreds of Sure Start centres have been lost, contributing to a total of 35,000 fewer childcare places under David Cameron. All at a time when the number of children under-4s in England has risen by 125,000.

"Before the last election. David Cameron described Labour as a ‘disgrace’ for warning that the Tories would put Sure Start at risk. He added: 'Not only do we back Sure Start, but we will improve it.'

"This morning they were at it again, boasting that there were more than 3,000 Sure Start Centres across the country. 

"But let’s look at the official government statistics: there are, indeed, 3053 Sure Start Centres. But in April 2010 there were 3,631 Sure Start Centres. That is 578 fewer Sure Start Centres than before the election. That is an average of three Sure Start Centres being lost every single week of this government. And too many of those that remain have lower staffing levels and reduced services."

While the Lib Dems' failure to keep their pledge to vote against higher tuition fees means they are widely derided for their mendacity, the Conservatives have got off lightly so far.  By highlighting the extent to which Cameron misled the public over Sure Start, Labour is rightly seeking to change that.

David Cameron at Demos in January 2010, where he delivered a speech pledging to extend the number of Sure Start centes. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leave will leap on the immigration rise, but Brexit would not make much difference

Non-EU migration is still well above the immigration cap, which the government is still far from reaching. 

On announcing the quarterly migration figures today, the Office for National Statistics was clear: neither the change in immigration levels, nor in emigration levels, nor in the net figure is statistically significant. That will not stop them being mined for political significance.

The ONS reports a 20,000 rise in net long-term international migration to 333,000. This is fuelled by a reduction in emigration: immigration itself is actually down very slightly (by 2,000) on the year ending in 2014, but emigration has fallen further – by 22,000.

So here is the (limited) short-term significance of that. The Leave campaign has already decided to pivot to immigration for the final month of the referendum campaign. Arguments about the NHS, about sovereignty, and about the bloated bureaucracy in Brussels have all had some utility with different constituencies. But none has as much purchase, especially amongst persuadable Labour voters in the north, as immigration. So the Leave campaign will keep talking about immigration and borders for a month, and hope that a renewed refugee crisis will for enough people turn a latent fear into a present threat.

These statistics make adopting that theme a little bit easier. While it has long been accepted by everyone except David Cameron and Theresa May that the government’s desired net immigration cap of 100,000 per year is unattainable, watch out for Brexiters using these figures as proof that it is the EU that denies the government the ability to meet it.

But there are plenty of available avenues for the Remain campaign to push back against such arguments. Firstly, they will point out that this is a net figure. Sure, freedom of movement means the British government does not have a say over EU nationals arriving here, but it is not Jean-Claude Juncker’s fault if people who live in the UK decide they quite like it here.

Moreover, the only statistically significant change the ONS identify is a 42 per cent rise in migrants coming to the UK “looking for work” – hardly signalling the benefit tourism of caricature. And though that cohort did not come with jobs, the majority (58 per cent) of the 308,000 migrants who came to Britain to work in 2015 had a definite job to go to.

The Remain campaign may also point out that the 241,000 short-term migrants to the UK in the year ending June 2014 were far outstripped by the 420,000 Brits working abroad. Brexit, and any end to freedom of movement that it entailed, could jeopardise many of those jobs for Brits.

There is another story that the Remain campaign should make use of. Yes, the immigration cap is a joke. But it has not (just) been made into a joke by the EU. Net migration from non-EU countries is at 188,000, a very slight fall from the previous year but still higher than immigration from EU countries. That alone is far above the government’s immigration cap. If the government cannot bring down non-EU migration, then the Leave argument that a post-EU Britain would be a low-immigration panacea is hardly credible. Don’t expect that to stop them making it though. 

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.