Osborne pledges to double childcare places for two-year-olds

Chancellor George Osborne has announced a commitment to double the number of free childcare places for two-year-olds.

In his autumn statement, presented in the House of Commons, Osborne said the government will invest an extra £380m a year by 2014/15 to expand the number of childcare places for two-year-olds from 130,000 to 260,000.

“I can tell the House today that we can double the number of children who will receive this free nursery care. Forty per cent of two-year-olds, 260,000 children, from the most disadvantaged families, will get this support in their early years,” Osborne said.

“Education, early years learning; that is how you change the life chances of our least well off and genuinely lift children out of poverty,” he added.

Earlier this month, the Department for Education launched a consultation on plans to expand the entitlement to free childcare to the 20 per cent most deprived two-year-olds in the country. The new investment will now cover the 40 per cent most disadvantaged with the total amount of spending on the scheme now rising from £296m in 2012/13 to £760m in 2014/15.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said: “Most of the children that this move will benefit are not currently accessing any formal early education so this will make a real difference to their future learning and life chances.

“Nurseries will be keen to support this investment and are well placed to provide the high-quality early education that is needed, along with support for families.

“It is vital that the right level of funding is available to support high-quality early education and that this funding gets to the frontline in nurseries. There must also be enough good-quality places available for two-year-olds and local authorities will need to work closely with nurseries and other providers to ensure that support is in place.”

Other announcements in the autumn statement included an extra £600m to fund 100 additional free schools by the end of this parliament, including specialist maths free schools for 16- to 18-year-olds.

A further £600m will be made available to support local authorities with the greatest pressures on school places.

Osborne also repeated the commitments outlined in the Youth Contract announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last week.

But Dr Hilary Emery, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said: “Figures released earlier this month showing youth unemployment reaching the record high of more than one million, added to cuts to family, children and youth services, the freezing of welfare benefits, increases in university fees, the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance, added pressures on family life with the rising cost of food, fuel and childcare, as well as parents’ worrying about their own employment, all paints a pretty bleak picture for our future generation.

“Strategic investment needs to be targeted at children and young people who have been losing out the most, from progressively tightened local and national budgets.”