chapter  14
Sure Start. Undermined by neoliberalism: Inequalities and the language of disadvantage
Pages 9

Although the notion of a Big Society may have been influenced by a desire to address some of the consequences of neoliberalism, the policy itself sits within a wider neoliberal agenda. Tensions became apparent between a desire to promote community empowerment and personal choice and the need for government to ameliorate the worst excesses of a meritocratic society which leaves certain communities at a distinct disadvantage in comparison with their better-off neighbours. This chapter focuses on Sure Start, one of New Labour’s flagship policies. Sure Start began as a targeted intervention to support families with very young children and was later established as a universal service for the under-fives. This transition marked a significant change in policy aims and the core offer available to parents through the programme. Programme content and governance arrangements for the new-styled Sure Start Children’s Centres also looked very different when they were set up in the late 1990s. Following the general election in 2010, Sure Start was subject to yet another policy shift, marking a return to the targeted focus of the original Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) of 1998. The language of government, similarly, changed from that of New Labour’s concerns for social exclusion to Conservative thinking around social mobility, in line with Big Society rhetoric concerning community engagement and empowerment.