A new study shows that as many as 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres may have been closed since 2010, double the government’s official estimate.
The Sutton Trust found that confusion over identifying individual centres and how changes were reported meant the figure of 500 closures was a vast underestimate.
They also found that many centres have remained open in name only. They have been hollowed out, only offering a fraction of the services they used to.
Sure Start centres were established under the Labour government in 1998. Their aim was to give young children the best start in life by offering co-ordinated high-quality support in early education, health and family support, all in one location.
UNISON is the biggest union for early years workers, with many thousands working in Sure Start centres.
The union’s assistant general secretary, Christina McAnea, commented: “This report reflects what our members have told us about the devastating cuts in children’s centres.
“Sure Start centres are about helping children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. They have been proven to have a positive impact on children and families, so it is absolutely shocking that so many have been shut down, and that the real figures have been hidden from the public.
“The government promised a review of children’s centres in 2015. That has still to be published and all inspections of centres have been put on hold.
“Children’s centres have been left in limbo,” Ms McAnea added. “It is difficult to have any faith that this government has proper long-term plans for their future. We need to reverse the massive cuts to local authority funding for these services that are so vital for young children and their families.”