The health effects of Sure Start


This report from the UK think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies looks at the effects of Sure Start on the health of children in poorer neighbourhoods.

New evaluation finds Sure Start had major health benefits for children in poorer neighbourhoods Sure Start has had a turbulent history. The programme was first introduced in 1999 as Sure Start Local Programmes, targeted at highly disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Five years later, the 10-Year Strategy for Childcare called for ‘a children’s centre in every community’, transforming the initiative into a universal service. At its peak in 2009–10, Sure Start accounted for £1.8 billion of public spending (in 2018–19 prices), about a third of overall spending on programmes for the under-5s. But in the decade since, the context has been one of funding cuts, consolidation and centre closures, with funding falling by two-thirds to £600 million in 2017–18.

Despite its rapid expansion and the subsequent cuts, evidence on the impact Sure Start has had on the health of children and their families is still relatively scarce. In this report, we take a step back to consider the overall impacts on health of the Sure Start programme as a whole between its inception in 1999 and its peak in the late 2000s. Our focus on health outcomes is motivated by the fact that, while Sure Start’s services were multifaceted and varied between centres and over time, one of its objectives was to improve children’s health.

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