Thousands of needy two-year-olds to be offered free childcare places

MORE than 13,500 of the poorest two-year-olds in Yorkshire will receive free childcare from next year under plans to be unveiled by the Government this morning.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will today announce further details of the coalition’s pledge to extend its programme offering 15 hours per week of free childcare to some children under the age of three.

Only the neediest two-year-olds will benefit from the initiative, which Ministers say will help prevent young children from being disadvantaged before they have even started school.

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The project will help children in every part of Yorkshire, including more than 2,000 in Leeds, 1,800 in Bradford and 1,400 in Sheffield.

Mr Clegg, the MP for Sheffield Hallam, said: “From 2013, 130,000 of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds will be eligible for 15 hours of free childcare a week, with double that number set to benefit the following year.

“Today we’re letting local authorities know the money they will receive to offer these free places and make a huge difference to hard-pressed families.

“Good-quality childcare gives children a head start even before they walk through the school gates for the first time. No child should miss out on this just because of the circumstances of their birth.”

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But Labour said the funding would not compensate for the huge cuts in tax credits and other spending reductions that have hit families over the past two years.

Shadow Children’s Minister Sharon Hodgson said: “While funding for childcare for two-year-olds – started by Labour in 2009 – is welcome, this announcement won’t do enough to help families with children who are being hammered by this Government, with a triple whammy of higher childcare costs, less support through tax credits and a shortage of childcare places.

“The funding being announced today is not additional money – it is simply being taken from existing budgets that pay for children’s centres.

“Parents won’t be fooled. In fact, the overall budget for Sure Start children’s centres is falling by over 40 per cent.”