MORE than 4,000 two-year-olds in South Yorkshire are to benefit from new free childcare schemes announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg.
For the last two years pre-school youngsters aged three and four from poor families have been able to access 15 hours of free childcare every week.
Now the Government has unveiled plans to extend the scheme, from September 2013, to include two-year-olds as well.
The change should help 4,200 children in South Yorkshire.
According to Government figures, 1,600 children aged two in Sheffield, 800 in Rotherham, 800 in Barnsley and 1,000 in Doncaster will qualify for the childcare.
Mr Clegg said: “Giving children a fair start in life is at the heart of what I and the Liberal Democrats are about.
“It is an absolute disgrace that a child born today in one the poorest neighbourhoods in Sheffield can expect to live 14 years fewer than one born in the wealthiest neighbourhood in the city.
“We know that the earlier we help children, the bigger difference we can make to their lives. That’s why I am proud to announce plans to give 15 hours’ free childcare for the 4,200 South Yorkshire two-year-olds most in danger of falling behind.”
The plans make it compulsory for councils to provide the childcare to youngsters aged two, three and four, whose families have an income of £16,190 or less and receive child tax credit.
The new legislation, which will have to pass through Parliament before it comes into effect, will also make childcare more flexible, so childcare can be taken between 7am and 7pm spread across two days instead of the current three.
Mr Clegg added: “I want us to give every child the best possible start - so free education for toddlers from the most disadvantaged homes will now be a right and not a privilege.
“Crucially the extra care will be flexible and easy to access. Parents across the country are bending over backwards to balance work and home. The Coalition wants to help in whatever way we can.”