Sure Start children’s centres delivered major health benefits for youngsters in the most deprived areas, reducing the number of people taken to hospital and delivering millions of pounds in savings to the NHS, a study has found. The Guardian reports.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies research found that where Sure Start offered high levels of service in poor neighbourhoods in England, visits to hospital to treat injuries fell among all children of primary school age, and by a third of all 11-year-olds.
The study questioned the current cuts to children’s centre budgets – reduced by two-thirds nationally between 2011 and 2017 – and urged the government to acknowledge Sure Start’s “big positive effect on children’s health” in future public spending plans.
There was also evidence the programme delivered significant financial savings to the NHS. Direct savings through fewer hospital visits saved £5m, or about 0.4% of annual Sure Start spending. When the lifetime health savings of avoiding childhood injuries were factored in, the level of savings reached 6% of the Sure Start budget.
The study found no evidence that Sure Start helped reduce child obesity among five-year-olds or improved maternal mental health, although it added that data limitations should not be taken as evidence that there was no effect in reality.
Poverty expert Naomi Eisenstadt, who was the first director of the government’s Sure Start unit in 1999, welcomed what she called an authoritative piece of research, and urged ministers to start to reverse early years spending cuts. “I hope this study changes the conversation of Sure Start,” she said.
Sure Start was a flagship New Labour policy and the first centres were set up in deprived areas. In 2004 the programme was expanded with the aim of delivering “a children’s centre in every community”. At its peak in 2009-10, Sure Start had 3,600 centres and a £1.8bn budget, before austerity cuts introduced by the coalition reduced centre numbers by up to 1,000, and funding by two-thirds.
Read the full article Sure Start programme saved the NHS millions of pounds, study finds
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