One of the small but welcome surprises my three young children have brought to our house in the 10 years since they began arriving is the periodic parcel of brand new books and other goodies delivered by the Bookstart charity.
The idea is simple, brilliant and progressive. "Inspiring a love of books in every child," reads the charity's strapline on its website. By delivering a small parcel of brand new books as well as resources to help parents as children hit three key ages in development, the charity hopes to inspire a lifelong love of reading in children and to help parents understand how reading can be an important part of both bonding and development.
As someone who loves books and firmly believes that the world would be an infinitely better place if more people opened books and opened their minds, Bookstart seemed to me to be the perfect vehicle for promoting learning, understanding and culture into a world that rapidly seems to be turning its back on those things.
And to my mind it was a worthy use of public money, effectively seeding the scheme and turning it over to a partnership of the voluntary and private sectors. As a Guardian leader points out: "Public and private sectors combining to provide a public good: wasn't that meant to be what the big society was all about?"
Apparently not. Bookstart this week announced that its funding would be cut by 100% and the scheme is at risk. Ministers, predictably, have hidden behind the "tough choices in tough times" mantra that they have rolled out to defend every spending decision they have made. And of course they do have to make decisions, that is very well understood.
But £13m for a scheme that gives children an introduction to a world that can stimulate their young minds and put them on a path to learning. I wonder what the Department of Education thinks its purpose is if not to support this goal?
First the school sports partnership, then the EMA and now Bookstart. It feels like a sustained and concerted assault on the young, and in particular the young who need the support of the state to begin their tentative and increasingly tough journeys in the world. Truly the barbarians are at the gates.