Is Sure Start heading for a re-start?

If current polling is correct, then the Labour Party will return to power in the UK by early 2025. The last time Labour led the UK Government, one of its most prominent policies was the creation of Sure Start in 1997.

This early childhood development and family support programme was widely implemented throughout England and the investment reached an annual peak of £2.5 billion. Under the Conservatives, funding has been dramatically cut and more than 1,300 Sure Start centres have closed. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has now released two detailed analyses of Sure Start’s effectiveness and impacts. The first (Catton et al.) in 2022 focused on health outcomes and revealed that hospitalisations (and thus, hospital expenditure on young children) decreased significantly during the years in which Sure Start was rolled out, especially from 2000-2010. The second (Carneiro et al.), published in April 2024, focused on its education legacy. Once again, the results for the years studied found large benefits, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Among the key findings of this new IFS report are:

  • Access to a Sure Start centre between the ages of 0 and 5 significantly improved the educational achievement of children, with benefits lasting at least until GCSEs (age 16).
  • There are much larger impacts for those from the poorest backgrounds and those from non-white backgrounds. By the time they took their GCSEs, effects were six times higher for those eligible for free school meals than for those not eligible for them. Positive effects for those from the poorest backgrounds were spread across white and non-white children.
  • Sure Start increased reporting of Special Educational Need or Disability (SEND) for children under the age of five, while reducing later SEND support for many - because their needs were meaningfully addressed at an early stage.

It is an open question whether the next UK Government will build upon the lessons of Sure Start and/or reintroduce this early years’ investment. The evidence should certainly encourage it to do so.


Read more: 

Cattan, S. et al. (2022) The health effects of universal early childhood interventions: evidence from Sure Start. Available at: <accessed 14 April, 2024>


Carneiro, P. et al. (2024) The short and medium term impacts of Sure Start on educational outcomes. Available at: The short- and medium-term impacts of Sure Start on educational outcomes | Institute for Fiscal Studies (

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