Union backs battle to stop closures of Hackney children’s centres

Residents campaigning to stop closures to children’s centres in Hackney. Pic: Save Fernbank and Hillside

UNISON Hackney have pledged to support local parents who have criticized the proposed closures and changes in provisions to four children’s centres in Hackney. 

Hackney Council had said previously that the Fernbank and Sebright centres in Stoke Newington and Haggerston respectively could be closed if there was no alternative management found for them.  

There were also planned changes for the Hillside and Ollhill centres in Stamford Hill and Clapton. This included turning Hillside into a centre for children, aged 2-5 with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and the reduction in children’s age limit in Oldhill from four to three. However, Hackney Council told Eastlondonlines that: “…additional holiday and wraparound care at the beginning and end of the day would continue to be available for the working parents that want it, as it is currently the case.”*

Matt Paul, the branch secretary for UNISON Hackney told Eastlondonlines that though Hackney Council were faced with difficult decisions due to effects of: “government” austerity and current economic crisis, it did not mean that they had to cut funding to affordable childcare services.

Paul said, “Hackney Council clearly has had difficult decisions to make after 14 years of government austerity…but unsustainable cuts to essential services offering affordable childcare aren’t the answer. This support is vital to local families. If it disappears, the impact on low-income households will be devastating…UNISON won’t stand by and watch this happen.” 

If the proposed closures were to go through, it is alleged that it would cut subsidised nursery centres in Hackney by 33%. 

However, Hackney council argue that the current funding model of subsidising childcare is not sustainable: “[…I]n 2021/22 Hackney spent on average £666.00 per child aged 0-4 years, which is the second highest in London when compared to a statistical neighbour average of £242.00 per child. This is an increase from 2020/21, where Hackney spent on average £657.00 per child, compared to a neighbour average of £279.00. This is because Hackney continued to subsidise childcare in children’s centres, when most local authorities either ceased to subsidise maintained childcare with the introduction of the government-funded entitlement or have not previously funded childcare…this situation is not sustainable.” 

However, local campaigners say that reducing childcare is detrimental to Hackney’s young children, and that there are other ways of funding childcare aside from the funding cuts. 

Paul said: “…Rather than simply pass on government cuts, the council should wait to see the impact the expansion of free childcare will have on demand and consider alternatives like using cash reserves.” 

Natalie Aguilera, the spokesperson for the Save Our Children’s Centres campaign said: “People are struggling, and these changes and closures will particularly impact the most vulnerable, the poorest and single-parent families. It is between the ages of nought to three where you can make the most impact in a child’s life… [and] 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…” 

UNISON Hackney have started a petition to stop the closures to the Fernbank and Seabright centres, and to oppose the changes in provision to the Hillside and Oldhill centres which has gained over 800 signatures. This is in connection to the crowdfunder that was started by local residents in Hackney supported by UNISON which has gained over £3,000 in pledges. 

Hackney Council are currently running a consultation which is due to close on April 24, on the proposed changes and local residents have been encouraged to share their views and concerns. 

Paul added: “…[T]he union’s petition devised with local parents is quickly gathering support, whilst we consider taking action to fight against these plans to close or privatise children centres. Councillors must listen to the community and do everything they can to protect key services.” 

*This article was amended on March 20 to clarify the times childcare is available at the Old Hill and Hillside Centres.

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