Column: Children's Services

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 16th August:

Children’s services are an absolutely vital support network for new parents and children of all ages.

From parenting classes to training on child development, youth clubs to health and wellbeing activities, these services and others like them keep children healthy and happy, and combine to give them the best start in life.

But working with the charity Action for Children, I can reveal figures showing that funding for children’s centres in Barnsley has collapsed by over half since 2015.

The 53 percent cut amounts to £4.4m in real terms, reducing the overall spending to less than £4m.

The statistics also expose the impact of the cuts on local children and families, with a 42 percent decline in under-6s accessing children’s centres.

That represents 3,764 local children under the age of 6 who are now missing out on access to a children’s centre.

The figures are far worse than the national average, which was a decline of just under a fifth.

Action for Children have found that the most deprived local authorities have seen the number of children using centres falling by almost double the proportion in the least deprived.

A recent report showed that Barnsley was the local authority worst-hit by cuts to their funding from central government, placing it firmly in that first category.

As we have all seen first-hand here in Barnsley, cuts have consequences, and because of decisions made by the Tories thousands of local children and their families are losing out on the support that children’s centres can offer.

It flies in the face of all the evidence showing that investment in the early years of childhood is the most effective at giving our children the best chances in life.

This should be a priority for every government, and Ministers should be supporting children’s centres, not closing them.

Alongside Sir Steve Houghton, I recently handed in a petition to the former Prime Minister at the steps of Downing Street, calling for more funding for children’s services.

Since then, the new Prime Minister has said nothing about funding for these services, or the damage done by cuts to them.

It’s something I’ll be pushing the Government to immediately address when Parliament returns after summer, to ensure Barnsley has all the resources it needs to provide adequate and effective children’s services.