£7bn 'fairness premium' for poorest youngsters

Children "must not pay the price for this generation's mistakes", Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg warned today as he laid out plans for a £7 billion "fairness premium" to help the poorest youngsters.

It is not acceptable that the circumstances of a child's birth can sentence them to a life of disadvantage, he said.



The new "fairness premium" will help the poorest youngsters from the ages of two to 20, and includes proposals for a "pupil premium", a key pledge of the Lib Dems' election manifesto that made its way into the coalition agreement.



Mr Clegg's announcement comes at a time when he is under severe pressure from within his own party, and the continuing possibility of a backbench revolt over a u-turn on a party election pledge not to raise university tuition fees.



Speaking at a junior school in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, this morning, Mr Clegg said that tackling the deficit will mean "wiping the slate clean" for the next generation.



The UK is going to spend £43 billion on debt interest this year, around £830 million per week. This is enough to build a new primary school every hour, buy a new Chinook helicopter every day, triple the numbers of doctors in hospitals, or spend twice as much on education.



He argued that next week's spending review will provide an opportunity to boost fairness and the life chances for the poorest.



"I can announce today that in the Spending Review we will provide extra funds - a total of over £7 billion over the spending review period - for a "fairness premium", stretching from the age of two to the age of 20: from a child's first shoes to a young adult's first suit.



"This is more than £7 billion spent on giving the poorest children a better start in life."



The package will include 15 hours a week of free nursery education for the poorest two-year-olds, at a cost of £300 million a year by 2014/15, and a "pupil premium" with funds handed to schools to help pupils eligible for Free School Meals - a measure of poverty, which will eventually be worth £2.5 billion per year.



A "student premium" to help the poorest teenagers to go to university will also be set up, at a cost of at least £150 million per year by the end of the spending review period.



Mr Clegg said: "Tackling the deficit means wiping the slate clean for the next generation.



"It means ensuring that our children do not pay the price for this generation's mistakes. And their future must be at the heart of every decision we take along the way."



He added: "It is simply not acceptable that the circumstances of a child's birth can become a life sentence of disadvantage."



The cash is expected to help children from the poorest 20% of families.



Details of the proposals are not yet known.



It comes just days after the Browne review into the future of student funding recommended lifting the cap on university tuition fees, which would see students to pay back thousands more in loan repayments for their degrees.



Speaking in the Commons earlier this week, Business Secretary Vince Cable, who has responsibility for higher education, came under fire after announcing the Government was considering doubling the current fee cap from £3,290 to £7,000.



Lord Browne's proposals to lift the cap entirely are also under consideration, he said.



The Lib Dems campaigned against tuition fees in the general election, and several Lib Dem MPs have already announced they will stick to their pledge to vote against any hike.



Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Mr Clegg expressed "regret" that the coalition was having to raise fees.



"Do I regret that the policy that we went into the General Election on tuition fees is something we have found we cannot deliver, and that the alternative, for instance, of a pure graduate tax that we explored very actively for months and months, don't actually work and are in themselves even unfairer? Yes, of course I regret that.



"We have to deal with this because if we don't we are simply blighting the life chances of future generations."



Chris Keates, general secretary the NASUWT teachers' union, dismissed the measure as a political "sop" to Liberal Democrat backbenchers which would "sink without trace" amid wider cuts.



She said: "Cutting the roll-out of universal free school meals, abolishing one-to-one tuition, pulling the plug on funding for breakfast clubs and other extended services, aborting the school building programme and siphoning off money to allow the pushy and the privileged to set up schools will hit the poorest and most disadvantaged children hardest.



"£7bn over three years to cover pre-school provision, a pupil premium and support for university tuition will sink without trace in the gaping hole in the education budget left by the deep cuts predicted in the Comprehensive Spending Review.



"This announcement is nothing to do with fairness. It is nothing to do with tackling disadvantage. It is nothing to do with raising educational standards.



"It's a sop to Liberal Democrat backbenchers who at long last may be showing signs of rebelling as one totemic Liberal Democrat education policy after another is sacrificed to Tory ideology."



Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "While claiming that supporting the poorest pupils is a priority, many of the cuts that are either in place or coming down the line will adversely affect parents and pupils on the lowest income.



"Nick Clegg is right to focus on early years funding. The attainment gap between the rich and poor widens from a very young age. The Government must, however, remember that this gap gets wider and wider as pupils progress throughout their school career.



"Cutting central support services to schools, one to one tuition and the expansion of free school meals will have a massive impact on the abilities of schools to give every child the care and practical support they need."



Shadow children's minister Sharon Hodgson said: "I welcome the Government's plan to extend free pre-school provision for children from disadvantaged backgrounds - after all, it was pilot projects announced by the Labour government in 2007 which have proved that this is an excellent idea.



"It would, of course, be nice to see some details, but I'm not sure Nick Clegg is allowed to announce things like that. It shows how desperate he is for some good press after such an embarrassing week that he has to re-announce policies put in place by Labour and already re-announced by Michael Gove."



Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: "Obviously, we fully support fairness, early intervention and any extra funding for disadvantaged children, but the jury is still out on the Government's £7 billion 'fairness premium'.



"It is impossible to know whether this targeted funding will be any improvement on the previous deprivation funding, or indeed, whether it will mean more funding for those who need it most.



"And, until the comprehensive spending review, it is too soon to know whether this funding will be found from making cuts to existing support for poorer children."

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