Campaigners blast council cuts to children’s services as ‘massive attack’ on those most in need

Children joined the protest on the Town Hall steps. Photograph: Suzanne Trotter

Protesters gathered outside Hackney Town Hall before last night’s budget meeting to make a stand against proposals to restructure children’s centres.

Despite their efforts, a £5.5 million cut to children and youth services was later approved as part of the council’s wider financial plan for the coming year.

It means two children’s centres, Stoke Newington’s Fernbank and Haggerston’s Seabright, face having to close if no new operators can be found.

If the closures go ahead, places at Hackney children’s centres will reduce by a third.

Old Hill children’s centre in Clapton and Hillside children’s centre in Stamford Hill are facing a reduction to term-time-only childcare services – a move that “doesn’t work for working families”, said protest organiser Natalie Aguilera.

Natalie Aguilera and Diane Abbott MP at the rally. Photograph: Josh Kelly

“There isn’t enough affordable childcare anyway,” said Aguilera.

“People are struggling, and these changes and closures will particularly impact the most vulnerable, the poorest and single-parent families.”

In inner city London, the average price of childcare for a child under two is £395. For the lowest income families, children’s centres offer childcare for a reduced rate of £207.

“It is between the ages of nought to three where you can make the most impact in a child’s life,” Aguilera continued. “That is where you will close the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.

“Children’s centres have an invaluable role to play in doing that and that’s why we’re going to fight tooth and nail to keep these centres open for now and for future generations.”

The protest’s headline speaker was Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, who said the centres are “part of making Hackney a stronger and happier community”.

Abbott accused the Town Hall of being “more willing to listen to council officers than to listen to their voters”.

She went on to say that “there are other ways to save the money that do not threaten the most vulnerable in society”.

Other speakers included Brian Debus, chair of Hackney UNISON and president of the Hackney Trades Council, who slammed the cuts as “a massive attack on those who’ve got the least in society”.

Dave Davis, secretary of Hackney’s National Education Union branch, said the cuts would create “a vicious cycle of decline”.

Green councillor Alastair Binnie-Lubbock also addressed concerned parents, children and union members at the protest, saying: “I don’t want to see this borough become a more hostile place for our young people.”

He added: “It’s really important that we invest in these services. Every pound that we spend comes back to us many times over in benefits to the community, in savings for health and for the police and all across our community.”

Binnie-Lubbock and his fellow Green councillor Zoë Garbett proposed budget changes to source the money needed to postpone the cuts for a year, but these were voted against.

Hackney Mayor Caroline Woodley said chronic underfunding of children’s services from the government has created stress and anxiety for children centre’s managers and staff.

She added that there is “no statutory requirement for councils to provide children’s centres” and that the council “must ensure it is getting its priorities right”.