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Free school meals: success on a plate for deprived children?

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 04, 2014

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As the new school year begins Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg explains how childcare and free school meals will ease the challenges for parents

This week there’ll be an army of mums, dads, grandparents and carers up and down the country trying to juggle their busy lives. They will be arranging school-runs and childcare to working around school activities and getting uniforms and sports kits ready. And many of these families will be feeling the squeeze.

One of my biggest priorities in Government is to ensure that when you and your children set out to achieve your ambitions, the choices available to you are greater and the sums add up a little easier. At every step on this road, we’re working hard to build a stronger economy and fairer society in Britain. A Britain fit for modern families.

So I’m delighted to be able to say that from this month we’re not only extending free childcare for two year-olds to help families that need it the most but we’re also rolling out free school meals for every single child in the first three years of school (aged four to seven), that’s 149,233 more children in the South West.

Free school meals will not only save mums and dads in the South West around £400 per year, per child but the benefits for children speak for themselves. In areas where we’ve been piloting free school meals, early research shows that pupils are up to two months ahead of their peers in other places and have a better chance of improving in all subjects from maths and science to writing and reading. Plus they’re more likely to eat vegetables at lunchtime rather than less healthy options like crisps.

This is also crucial for making sure every child gets the best start – regardless of their background and how much money their parents have. Too often in Britain’s schools we still see poorer children falling behind their better-off classmates, and it starts to happen very early on. By making sure all little boys and girls are getting a healthy meal we can help level the playing field and close this gap – and for me nothing is more important than that.

That’s why we’ve invested £760 million to double the offer of free childcare for two-year-olds so that from this month it will now cover up to 40% of families who need it the most. That means around 20,000 two year olds in the South West will now qualify for 15 hours a week of free childcare. You’re eligible if your household income is less than £16,190 and you receive Working Tax Credit. If that’s you, or you think it might be, your local authority is there to help you take up a place for your child.

Too often, where a child is born or where they go to school determines how successful they are in life. Social mobility cannot be fixed overnight, but I’m committed to doing all I can to help young people from deprived backgrounds overcome the barriers to success that they face. That’s why I’ve pushed hard to make free school meals and free childcare for two-year-olds a reality and help ease the pressure for millions of families across the country.

I’m proud of what we’re doing and the difference we are making to children’s lives – whether it’s through the introduction of the pupil premium, raising the personal allowance on income tax or supporting more flexible parental leave. We’re well on our way to building a fairer society which helps parents make the best choices for their children while balancing the demands of their family lives.

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