The Dingle Sure Start Centre in Liverpool.
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Big reform, not big spending, will save Sure Start

When funding is tight, we need a shift away from sticking plaster services to radical early intervention. 

Sure Start children’s centres are one of Labour’s proudest achievements in government. The ethos and spirit of Sure Start are at the heart of Labour’s vision for a society where no child is forgotten and every family has the support they need to succeed. Valued by parents, children and communities alike, this transformational service has given a generation a better start.

Before the 2010 election, David Cameron promised to protect Sure Start. Yet at best they have withered on the vine. Analysis of responses to Labour Party FOI requests I’ve unveiled today show that there ae 628 fewer centres since 2010. In addition, one in ten children’s centres provides fewer services, one in six has seen a reduction in hours and one in five has fewer staff than 2010. 

Sure Start is intrinsic to Labour values of giving every child the best start and for putting early intervention at the heart of public service reform. Children’s centres are part of the fabric of family life for so many. Yet under the Tories their future is precarious and under threat. That’s why we will renew our commitment to Sure Start through reforming how services are delivered and prioritised.

This vision will enhance the Sure Start mission to support all families whilst focusing specialist services on the individual needs of families and children. We will develop new guiding principles which will instil this vision.

When funding is tight, we need a shift away from sticking plaster services to radical early intervention which allows local areas to tackle the root causes of problems in their communities, freeing families from disadvantage and giving them the tools to build strong families and fulfil the aspirations they have for their children. This shift in culture and policy requires leadership at the centre and locally, however, and this is something the current government are failing to provide. It’s clear from their lack of policy and focus on Sure Start that ministers are content to let the programme wither away.

So the choice on Sure Start is clear - if Sure Start is to continue providing quality support and services to families across the country, we need a government that will make it a policy priority and provide direction. This means working closely with local areas and learning the lessons from places that are managing to reshape what they offer when money is tight.

Places like Manchester are undertaking this radical reform and delivering results. Through their innovation we know that the future of Sure Start can be about big reform, not big spending – but this will only happen if we work together to deliver this step-change in services. Allowing for local variation, building in flexibility to meet the very different needs of different local authority areas, but working under a shared objective of strengthening Sure Start so future generations can benefit from this unique, progressive and invaluable service.  

Data sharing, joint working, assertive outreach and robust interventions based on strong local leadership are all key to delivering a better start for children. Building on the work of Labour’s local government innovation taskforce we will work with local areas to build a stronger Sure Start. This work will be based on key principles to underpin a renewed and reinvigorated offer for parents and children which will focus on:

- Getting more from our Sure Start centres: centres up and down the country are sitting idle because their services have been hollowed out. We should require them to open up to other local family services such as health and childcare. By asking services to cooperate in this way and "co-locating" them in one place we’ll ensure family services are more joined-up and we maximise the resource of Sure Start centre buildings, helping them to stay viable.

- New Family Hubs: by co-locating family services in centres we can create family hubs in the community, giving parents a convenient single point of access, reaching more families and strengthening the role of centres locally. 

- Effective early intervention: centres will focus on ensuring effective early help and outreach so problems can be spotted early and families and children can receive the support they need to overcome material, physical and emotional problems. This will help save funding on "sticking plaster" services down the line.

Sure Start will be at the heart of our efforts to reform public services to shift from crisis intervention to early intervention. Children’s Centres are vital to Labour’s mission to reduce inequality, boost social mobility and narrow the gap between the most vulnerable and the rest. Under this government Sure Start is in danger of failing. Labour in office will reinvigorate it for families now and in the future. 

Lucy Powell is MP for Manchester Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Education. 

Felipe Araujo
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Manchester's Muslim community under siege: "We are part of the fabric of this nation"

As the investigation into last week's bombing continues, familiar media narratives about Islam conflict with the city's support for its Muslim population.

“You guys only come when something like this happens,” said one of the worshippers at Manchester's Victoria Park Mosque, visibly annoyed at the unusual commotion. Four days after the attack that killed 22 people, this congregation, along with many others around the city, is under a microscope.

During Friday prayers, some of the world’s media came looking for answers. On the eve of Ramadan, the dark shadow of terrorism looms large over most mosques in Manchester and beyond.

“People who do this kind of thing are no Muslims,” one man tells me.

It’s a routine that has become all too familiar to mosque goers in the immediate aftermath of a major terror attack. In spite of reassurances from authorities and the government, Muslims in this city of 600,000 feel under siege. 

“The media likes to portray us as an add-on, an addition to society,” Imam Irfan Christi tells me. “I would like to remind people that in World War I and World War II Muslims fought for this nation. We are part of the fabric of this great nation that we are.”

On Wednesday, soon after it was revealed the perpetrator of last Monday’s attack, Salman Ramadan Abedi, worshipped at the Manchester Islamic Centre in the affluent area of Didsbury, the centre was under police guard, with very few people allowed in. Outside, with the media was impatiently waiting, a young man was giving interviews to whoever was interested.

“Tell me, what is the difference between a British plane dropping bombs on a school in Syria and a young man going into a concert and blowing himself up,” he asked rhetorically. “Do you support terrorists, then?” one female reporter retorted. 

When mosque officials finally came out, they read from a written statement. No questions were allowed. 

“Some media reports have reported that the bomber worked at the Manchester Islamic Centre. This is not true,” said the director of the centre’s trustees, Mohammad el-Khayat. “We express concern that a very small section of the media are manufacturing stories.”

Annoyed by the lack of information and under pressure from pushy editors, eager for a sexy headline, the desperation on the reporters’ faces was visible. They wanted something, from anyone, who had  even if a flimsy connection to the local Muslim community or the mosque. 

Two of them turned to me. With curly hair and black skin, in their heads I was the perfect fit for what a Muslim was supposed to look like.

"Excuse me, mate, are you from the mosque, can I ask you a couple of questions,” they asked. “What about?,” I said. "Well, you are a Muslim, right?" I laughed. The reporter walked away.

At the Victoria Park Mosque on Friday, Imam Christi dedicated a large portion of his sermon condemning last Monday’s tragedy. But he was also forced to once again defend his religion and its followers, saying Islam is about peace and that nowhere in the Koran it says Muslims should pursue jihad.

“The Koran has come to cure people. It has come to guide people. It has come to give harmony in society,” he said. “And yet that same Koran is being described as blood thirsty? Yet that same Koran is being abused to justify terror and violence. Who de we take our Islam from?”

In spite of opening its doors to the world’s media, mosques in Britain’s major cities know they can do very little to change a narrative they believe discriminates against Muslims. They seem to feel that the very presence of reporters in these places every time a terror attack happens reveals an agenda.

Despite this, on the streets of Manchester it has proved difficult to find anyone who had a bad thing to say about Islam and the city’s Muslim community. Messages of unity were visible all over town. One taxi driver, a white working-class British man, warned me to not believe anything I read in the media.

“Half of my friends are British Muslims,” he said even before asked. “ These people that say Islam is about terrorism have no idea what they are talking about.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.

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