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Seven thousand more disadvantaged two-year-olds will be eligible for ‘free’ childcare, according to the new childcare minister.
Nadhim Zahawi has announced more children from low income families will be able to receive ‘free’ childcare, the early years pupil premium (EYPP) as well as free school meals.
Eligibility will be determined by Universal Credit, with families on a net earnings threshold of £7,400 per annum, being eligible for free school meals and the EYPP. Two-year-olds eligible for 15 hours of ‘free’ childcare will be those whose parents have a net earnings threshold of £15,400 per annum under Universal Credit.
Mr Zahawi said: “It is right that we must continue to offer the most disadvantaged young people additional help and I am pleased that, following public consultations, we can extend free school meals and the free early education entitlement for disadvantaged two-year-olds.
“Tens of thousands more children will be entitled to free school meals by 2022 compared to the previous benefits system.”
The Government has carried out two public consultations seeking views of parents, schools, local authorities, early years providers and charities.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “In our response to this consultation the Alliance raised serious concerns that any cap or means testing would create a cliff-edge that would exclude deserving, low-income families from free school meals and the early years pupil premium. It seems these concerns have been ignored. Unfortunately this response fits a recent pattern of Government consultations being a listening exercise in name only.
“The Government may claim that it is extending the availability of free school meals by 50,000 but this ignores figures from the Children’s Society which suggest the decision to introduce this earnings threshold could result in a million children missing out. In failing to respond to that research, and the concerns raised by the Alliance, the Government has missed an opportunity to provide much needed additional support and instead, introduced a policy that risks heaping more misery on to struggling families.”
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), welcomed the support for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, saying: “High quality early education is the best way to narrow the inequality gap.”
However she added: “The Government cannot just expect early years settings to be able to offer enough places for all eligible two-year-olds with the current funding rate. Our research shows that fewer nurseries are offering these places and more are planning to reduce the number of places they deliver so they can remain sustainable.”
“It’s crucial for these children that the hourly rate meets nurseries’ costs as their parents may not be able to afford to pay additional charges for meals and snacks.
“We are pleased that more children will benefit from the EYPP but this money should match the amount received by schools. Investing more in early years will pay dividends in later schooling.”
She also called for the Government to align EYPP with eligibility for the two-year-old offer which is available to a larger number of children, saying “then they would capture all those who really need this early boost”.
The Department for Education claims that by 2022 around 50,000 more children will benefit from a free school meal compared to the previous benefits system. In addition, it is estimated that by 2023 around 7,000 more children will benefit from the two-year-old entitlement.
The Government has confirmed that no child who has started their two-year-old early education place will lose it as a result of this new proposal.