Families and young people across Scotland will benefit from millions of pounds of additional support after First Minister Alex Salmond announced a significant expansion of free school meals and childcare provision.
As part of a £114 million package for young people over two years, every one of Scotland’s P1 to P3 children will have the option of a free meal in school from January next year, improving health and wellbeing, increasing attainment and saving families at least £330 a year for each child.
Speaking during a parliamentary debate on poverty and the early years, Mr Salmond also announced that free childcare provision would be expanded to every two year-old from a workless household in Scotland – around 8,400 children or 15 per cent of all two year-olds – by August this year.
And by August next year, free childcare provision would be extended further, reaching 15,400 children – 27 per cent of all two year-olds – by widening entitlement to families that received certain welfare benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance.
The First Minister said the extension to childcare provision would ensure that, by August 2015, Scotland will deliver 80 million hours of childcare to pre-school children – the greatest amount in the UK and 6.5 per cent more than if Scotland followed Westminster’s approach in England.
But he warned that, only with independence could a truly transformational shift in childcare be funded, because the economic gains and revenues generated by such a policy will go to a Scottish exchequer and not the London Treasury.
The First Minister said:
“The announcements that we are making today will have the greatest possible effect, given the limited resources available to us.
“Under this government, Scotland has made free meals available in primary school to families which receive child and working tax credits – a step which hasn’t been taken in England and Wales, and which contributed to 10,000 more pupils registering for free school meals.
“Now, we can go further. I can announce today that - after discussions with our partners in local government - we will fund free school meals for all school children in primary 1 to primary 3 from next January.
“This measure will build on, and learn from, the pilots we established in five local authority areas in 2007 and 2008. It will remove any possibility of free meals being a source of stigma during the first years of a child’s schooling; it will improve health and wellbeing; and it will be worth at least £330 a year for each child to families across the country.
“The measure has been supported by a powerful alliance of campaigners against child poverty, including Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, Children in Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, the Church of Scotland and trade unions.”
The First Minister continued:
“However we also have a determination to transform childcare. We have promised that in the first budget of an independent Scotland, we would make 600 hours of free childcare available to approximately 50 per cent of two year olds. This can be funded through choices which are only available with independence – such as ending funding for the Trident missile system.
“By the end of the first parliament, we would almost double childcare provision to 1,140 hours each year for all three and four year olds, and all vulnerable two year olds. In the longer term, we would make those levels of care available to all children from the age of one.
“The transformational change in the first parliament would improve care and learning for young children, boost economic growth, and remove a major barrier to work for many parents, especially women.
“Under devolution, even after the Scotland Act, this revenue goes to Westminster. With independence, it stays in Scotland. This Government’s ambitions for childcare involve transforming the structure of our economy and the nature of our society. They cannot be sustainably funded through a declining budget fixed at Westminster.
“I can announce today that we will increase the number of two year olds – currently 3 per cent of the total – who will benefit from free learning and care.
“We will begin by focussing on those families most in need. From this August, the entitlement will cover two year olds in families which are seeking work – approximately 15 per cent of the total. This will give parents additional support when they are looking for employment, and will maintain that support when they are successful.
“In August next year, we will expand provision further, for all children who would meet the current criteria for free school meals. That means that around 27 per cent of two year-olds will be covered – more than 15,000 children.
“By August 2015, the overall level of free learning and care being delivered for two, three and four year olds in Scotland, will exceed that which is promised elsewhere in the UK. As we all know, recent revelations suggest that more around one third of the current childcare promise in England is not being delivered due to a lack of preparation and capacity. In Scotland, we will both prepare and deliver.”
Notes to editors
This new package of support will be funded using consequentials from the UK Government’s autumn budget statement. Free school meals will cost £13m in year in 2014-15 and £42m in 2015-16. The childcare expansion will cost £15m in 2014-15 and £44m in 2015-16.
The Scottish Government is committed to expanding free school meal provision and has taken a number of steps to do so. In 2007-08 universal pilots were run in five local authorities. These projects saw uptake increase from 53 per cent to 75 per cent for P1 to P3 and from 50 per cent to 60 per cent among all pupils. Uptake among pupils already eligible for free school meals also increased.
In 2008, the Scottish Government passed enabling legislation to allow local authorities to provide free school meals to all pupils in P1 to P3. In 2009, further legislation was passed to expand eligibility to free school meals beyond the criteria used in England and Wales.
The Scottish Government previously committed to increasing the level of free care and learning for three and four year-olds and to the most vulnerable two year-olds from to 600 hours each year by August 2014 in a policy worth hundreds of pounds a year to families across Scotland.
The August 2015 expansion in free childcare provision will extend entitlement under criteria currently used to determine eligibility for free school meals. This includes those in receipt of income support; income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; any income-related element of Employment and Support Allowance; Child Tax Credit (with income lower than £15,910); both maximum child tax credit and maximum working tax credit (with income lower than £6420); support under the Immigration and Asylum Act and Universal Credit.
Today’s announcements come in a week of new support for children and young people. Yesterday, the Scottish Government announced that hundreds of Scotland’s most vulnerable young people would be given greater rights to continuing their care placement into early adulthood from next year. Further details are here: http://news.scotland.gov.uk/News/Greater-rights-for-young-people-in-care-818.aspx