Thousands of the poorest parents across Tower Hamlets are set to get free nursery places or 15 hours of free childcare a week for their two-year-olds.
New welfare rules introduced by the government to help working families mean that up to 2,800 toddlers in the borough are now eligible for free care, it is expected. Tower Hamlets has the highest rate of child poverty in the capital.
East London Lib Dem MEP Sarah Ludford said: “This is a welcome announcement for families in Tower Hamlets. Early education helps promote a child’s physical, emotional and social development.”
Nationally, 130,000 two-year-olds from poor backgrounds, or in care, will benefit from the scheme through a £600m investment. This week, Nick Clegg announced that the number of families eligible for the scheme will be doubled, with the investment increasing to £760m.
“All the evidence shows that if you take two children – two five-year-olds hanging up their coats next to each other on the first day of school – the poorer child will already be behind their better-off classmate before a single lesson has been taught,” Clegg said.
“Without this help, children suffer and the whole class suffers as teachers have to focus more of their efforts on children who are frustrated and left behind through no fault of their own.”
However some charities have warned that due to nursery closures, there will not be enough free spaces to meet the demand.
Anand Shukla, head of national charity the Family and Childcare Trust, told the BBC: “We are concerned that the loss of nursery provision in children’s centres is impacting on local authorities’ ability to find sufficient places for the offer.
“Cost savings have driven nursery closures and this approach reduces capacity in the system, which will damage government hopes of meeting its targets for provision of childcare for two-year-olds.”