Last week's announcement by Tessa Jowell of a £61 million a year fund to renew Sure Start in London is a powerful statement of intent. The debate on the Mayoralty in Labour circles so far has not focussed enough on the needs of children and families in London, but it's clear now that as Mayor Tessa put this at the heart of her agenda. At long last, London will have a Mayor who understands that families matter, has a plan to support families and will work with London's Boroughs to save Sure Start from Tory cuts.
The first 1,000 days of a child's life are critical in determining their life chances, and there is a real imperative for decision makers to put in place the support that will enable families with young children to succeed and achieve their full potential. In Islington, as in so many London Boroughs, we have extremes of wealth and poverty living cheek by jowl.
As the Borough with the second highest rate of child poverty in London, we have families facing multiple challenges living on the doorstep of unimaginable wealth. Our 16 Sure Start Children's Centres provide a powerful community based resource, valued and used by all sections of the community. But like other London Boroughs, the work of our Children's Centres has faced huge funding challenges in the face of Tory cuts.
We've done everything we can to protect our network of Children's Centres and the services they provide. We've refused to allow cuts to dampen our resolve to do more for families, and as an Early Intervention pilot place we are constantly working on new programmes to make a greater impact of the lives of Islington's families. But make no mistake, having lost 40% of our controllable budget over the last five years we face losing up to 40% again, and we are being pushed to make impossibly difficult decisions.
That's why as Lead member for Children and Families, me and my colleagues in London's 31 other boroughs will be cheering Tessa's Sure Start pledge. It gives us hope that come May 2016 there will be a Mayor in City Hall who is not only taking an interest in family support but is ready to open the cheque book and invest in the future of London's children. Without this investment, there is a risk of a 'lost generation' of children in London. And imagine the cost to the exchequer of failing this generation of children. The investment announced by Tessa today will be returned many times over as the young people it supports through their formative years go on to thrive and become productive citizens, achieving their potential at school and driving the London economy forward.
As one of the founders of Sure Start, Tessa knows the difference that early years support makes, and the value of Sure Start Children's Centres as a resource for bringing together parents and children from different backgrounds. So it's no surprise that her plans focus on the fundamentals of what made Sure Start such a success.
Universal services for parents and babies are key. All expectant parents, especially first timers, need information and support; from help giving up smoking to breastfeeding support to workshops promoting early communication with babies. Structured play sessions help parents of all backgrounds to mix, share experiences make friends and learn from professionals how to encourage the development of their children.
Some parents need more help. Those who struggle with drugs and alcohol, those who are socially isolated or have poor and even abusive relationships with their partners. Those with mental ill health, stress and anxiety. All these factors make it harder to focus on the needs of a child in the early days. And it is the children of these families who will have the worst outcomes in life if the right support isn't forthcoming. Tessa's focus on early intervention will help keep families together and build positive, healthy relationships.
Finally, re-establishing Sure Start as a community mission, making children's centres the focal point and hub for families in the first 1,000 days will enable families to access support from professionals and help develop peer support through volunteering.
As the father of two young boys, I know that becoming a parent can at once be the most rewarding and rich period of your life whilst also being extremely stressful and difficult, even when you have support and resources on your side. If we don't get it right in those first 1,000 days there will be a sad legacy for many families - so it brings shame on the Conservatives, who pledged to be the most family friendly Government ever, that they are pushing local councils into a place in which they are forced to make horrendous choices about family support services, and huge credit is due to Tessa for recognising the problem and setting out a clear plan.
I look forward to working with Tessa as our Labour Mayor of London to put these ambitious plans into action, building a strong Sure Start service in London and supporting thousands of Islington parents and children. We can't afford not to do this.