By Claire West

The Deputy Prime Minister has announced how free childcare for 2-year-olds is being doubled so that 40% of families will benefit from Britain becoming a place fit for modern working families.

From today, 130,000 2-year-olds from some of the poorest families are eligible for free childcare, based on whether their family qualifies for free school meals or whether they are looked after by the local authority. That is 20% of 2-year-olds.

Next September, the number of 2-year-olds qualifying for free childcare will be doubled to 260,000 (40% of 2-year-olds), by opening up the offer to families that earn less than £16,190 per year and receive Working Tax Credits. Those who have been adopted, are in care or have a disability or special educational needs will also benefit from next year.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

From today, if you’re a parent on a low income with a 2-year-old in the family you’ll qualify for up to 15 hours a week of free early education for your child. This free support is focused on helping the families that need it most. That’s around 130,000 2-year-olds — one in every five 2-year-olds.

And from this time next year, we will extend that helping hand even further, doubling the number of youngsters getting a brighter start in life.

All the evidence shows that if you take two children — two 5-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.

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.

I believe that every British family, whatever its structure, background and circumstances should be able to get on in life.

The government is investing £534 million this year to provide childcare for 130,000 2-year-olds from this week, and this will rise to £760 million in 2014 to 2015 to help the next 130,000 2-year-olds to get a better start in life.

Other measures to make Britain fit for modern families include:

raising the personal allowance on income tax so that from April next year, basic rate tax payers will get to keep all of the first £10,000 they earn; this is worth around £700 a year for more than 20 million people

tax-free childcare from 2015 where both parents are working but earning less than £150,000 each, the government will provide 20% of childcare costs — equivalent to £1,200 of support per child per year

increase in childcare contributions from 70% to 85% by the government from 2016, so that lone parents or couples in work who pay income tax and receive Universal Credit to help

pay for childcare will see reduced costs — benefiting 200,000 families

more flexible parental leave by 2015, so parents can share leave between them

by 2014, every employee will have the right to request flexible working