Page last updated at 18:02 GMT, Thursday, 20 January 2011

Life chances debate

Senior Labour backbencher Frank Field has warned that Sure Start centres, which provide childcare and support for parents, are being axed by councils across the country as they struggle to cope with funding cuts.

During a Commons debate on improving life chances for disadvantaged children on 20 January 2011, Mr Field acknowledged that Sure Start needed to be overhauled so it could help the poorest families.

Mr Field was last year appointed by the prime minister to lead an independent review into poverty.

His report, published last month, called on the government to give more support to children in the first five years of life - the "foundation years" - with the aim of breaking the cycle of disadvantage which traps families in poverty over generations.

He told MPs: "It is inconceivable at the current time that we can make a go of the foundation years if Sure Starts are slaughtered all over the place."

The government believes in devolving power to local authorities, he said, "but this programme will not work without some more money".

The debate was led by Conservative backbencher Damian Hinds who said quality childcare was key to improving the life chances of very young children.

He said the focal point of public debate should move to the foundation years and question how "what happens in those early stages, both in the home and out of it, impact on life chances forever".

Mr Hinds added: "The last generation must be the last to suffer from the chasm in life chances that comes with the lottery of birth."

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