Cuts to children’s centres hit communities hard, union finds

The mass closure of council-run centres, and the loss of specialist staff, have left many vulnerable families unable to access vital early-years support, trade union Unison has said.

They added that children’s centre closures across England have "devastated communities and left vulnerable families without access to vital education and health support".

Freedom of Information requests by the union reveal that over a third of council-run children’s centres in England have closed since 2010 when the government implemented austerity measures and slashed councils’ financial support.

There were at least 3,106 council-run children’s centres across England in 2010 to 11. But some local authorities had locked the doors of 1,168 centres by the end of March 2023, the union’s figures show.

Local authorities in the South East (68 per cent) and West Midlands (59 per cent) closed the highest proportion of their children’s centres between 2010/11 and 2022/23.

Meanwhile, three county councils topped the list of authorities that closed the most council-run children’s centres. These were Essex (74), Hampshire (70) and Surrey (39).

Across England’s city, unitary, metropolitan and borough councils, Birmingham (38 closures) shut down the most sites. It was followed by Shropshire (23), Somerset (20), Sandwell (20) and Stockport (17).

The data was released yesterday at Unison’s annual local government conference in Brighton.

Unison's head of local government, Mike Short, said: “Every region of England has closed vast numbers of council-run children’s centres – further victims of the government’s misplaced austerity drive.

“Children’s centres are the lifeblood of local communities. They support working and vulnerable parents, and they provide essential education and developmental support to the nation’s children from birth to school age and beyond.

“This research has exposed the harsh reality of centres closing. From leaving vulnerable families in deprived areas and isolated communities beyond the reach of support teams, to cutting the specialist staff who prevent at-risk children from being taken into care.

“Cuts to these crucial services merely create more problems and costs for the future. Ministers and council leaders should invest in children’s centres as part of wider plans to stabilise council finances and provide a boost to parents and youngsters.”

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