Lucy Rigby is to be thanked for reopening the debate on the merits of Sure Start (Sure Start worked. So why is Theresa May out to kill it?, theguardian.com, 6 February). Sure Start began its life with an impressive focus on the most important aspects of the relationship between low-income mothers and their young children that play such a crucial role in determining those children’s life chances.
It then morphed into an extension of the then Labour government’s welfare-to-work programme to help parents into jobs. During this second stage of its life, there was nowhere near enough attention paid to the impact of Sure Start on poorer children’s life chances. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that it is mothers’ mental health, the bonding between mothers and their children, and the home learning environment in the first five years of life – the foundation years – that determine whether poor children will grow up to become poor adults.
Whether Sure Start or other bodies are best placed to deliver interventions along these lines remains up for debate. But if it is to prevent poverty being passed down from one generation the next, the prime minister’s social justice strategy will need to deliver a significant increase in funding for such an intervention programme.
Frank Field MP