I could not agree more. A struggling parent will struggle whatever their income.
As we have heard, the proposals for family hubs have come from Members from across the political spectrum. The mission statement from the hon. Member for Congleton is certainly commendable. It is to
“co-locate superb early years health and other services with help for parents with children across the age ranges”.
Many wish to see the hubs encompass other services, such as jobcentres and relationship advisers, along with more conventional children’s centres.
The potential merits and points of discussion about family hubs are more substantial than one could hope to fit into a single short speech, so I will look at the impact of Government policies on services that would be incorporated into them. First, it is important to acknowledge that we already have a highly successful model of support for families. It is robust, has been tested and is highly popular with families from all communities. It is called Sure Start.
Unfortunately, the number of Sure Start units and children’s centres have been in rapid decline in recent years. In the late ’90s and the noughties, Sure Start grew to become a staple of communities across our country, providing immeasurable educational, health and social support to millions. However, the respected and independent Sutton Trust tells us that 1,000 Sure Start centres have closed since 2010. Furthermore, Action for Children states that local authority spending on early years services has fallen by more than half since 2010.
We should therefore not look at family hubs in insolation. We must make sure that they retain a clear early years focus and a strong offer to families. It is in the early years that we see the fastest development of our brains and neurological pathways, so the right early years support can give children the best start in life and help to close the developmental gap between poorer children and their peers.
That is not to mention the serious health problems facing children, which are a growing concern. One in three primary school children in year 6 are either overweight or obese, and if the childhood obesity crisis is not tackled, half of all UK children will be obese or overweight by 2020. That problem is much worse in the most deprived areas. A quarter of five-year-olds in England suffer from tooth decay, making it the leading cause of hospital admissions for five to nine-year-olds. Around three children and young people in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health condition. No matter what the services are in local areas, it is clear that they certainly have their work cut out for them.
We believe that early years services have been cut to a shameful extent, and that the growing postcode lottery is completely unacceptable. All family hubs must keep the early years and children’s centres ethos very much at their heart.