Spending on Sure Start cut by two-thirds in nine years

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Investment in Sure Start has further declined with the Government spending just over £576 million on children's centres in 2017-18, compared with £1.8 billion in 2009-10.


Parents are campaigning to save children's centres from closure

The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ (IFS) first annual report on education spending in England finds that while Government spending overall on the early years has increased, day-to-day spending on Sure Start children’s centres has continued to fall.

According to the IFS, spending on Sure Start grew from about £600 million in 2001-02 to reach around £1.8 billion in 2009-10. However, in 2017-18, the Government spent just over £576 million on children’s centres - a drop of 67 per cent since 2009-10.

The figures echo those of the National Audit Office (NAO), which last year published statistics showing local authority spending on children’s centres had nearly halved since 2010.

According to DfE data last year, more than 370 children’s centres have closed since 2010.

Funded childcare places

The IFS report says that spending on early years has risen ‘significantly’ over the last 30 years, from £100 million in the early 1990s to about £5.8 billion in 2017-18.

The free entitlement makes up about 60 per cent of total early years spending, up from 29 per cent in 2009-10. The Government now spends around £3.5 billion on the two-, three- and four-year-old offers.

The increase in funding for free entitlements is largely down to the rise in the number of hours. Spending on childcare subsidies - for example, childcare support through working-tax credit and employer-sponsored childcare vouchers - was £1.7 bn in 2017-18, down from £1.9 bn in 2009-10.


The report concludes by outlining what it believes are the two main challenges for early years funding over the next few years. They are:

  • Successful implementation of the policy, which lays with providers willing to offer the 30 hours given the funding available. The authors of the report recommend the Government continue to monitor overall levels and variation in take-up of the extended entitlement.
  • The difficulty of the new Early Years National Funding Formula to incentivise and support high-quality provision, as there is no agreed definition of ‘high-quality’ provision. The report says that a focus on minimising costs could have ‘unintended consequences’ by making it more difficult for childcare settings to provide high-quality care that supports children’s development.

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'We want every child to have the best start in life which is why we are spending more than any other government on supporting early years education and childcare – around £6 billion a year by 2020. There are 1.3million children benefitting from some form of government funded early education and a recent report showed the benefits of formal childcare on the early social and emotional skills of two to four year olds.

'We believe it is up to local councils to decide how to organise and commission services in their areas. They are best placed to understand local needs and how best to meet them, whether using children’s centre buildings, family hubs or delivering services through another model.'

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