with Alex Salmond, First Minister and MSP for Aberdeenshire East

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Supporting Scotland’s Families

It is without doubt that Scottish families, and particularly our young people, form the very core of Scottish society. It is therefore vital that we do all that we can, in spite of constraints, to support them.

Families and children across Scotland will benefit from a significantly expanded package of support in terms of free school meals and childcare provision.

This week I was delighted to announce that from January, 2015, each and every one of Scotland’s children in primary 1 to 3 will have the option of free school meals.

This package worth £114 million will undoubtedly help to improve health and wellbeing amongst children during this vital stage in their mental and physical development. Further still, it will save families at least £330 per year for each child.

Under the current Scottish Government, Scotland already has made free meals available in primary schools to families in receipt of child and working tax credits – a step which hasn’t been taken in England and Wales.

The news has been welcomed widely by campaigners against child poverty including Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, Children in Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, the Church of Scotland and trade unions, pictured at the meeting at Bute House.

Childcare provision will be expanded to every two-year-old from a workless household in Scotland by August of this year. This works out at around 8,400 children, or 15 per cent of all two year-olds in Scotland.

By next August, free childcare provision will be extended further still, reaching 15,400 children (or 27 per cent of 2-year-olds) by widening entitlement to families in receipt of certain benefits.

This expanded provision will have the greatest possible effect, given the limited resources available to us, delivering 80 million hours of childcare to pre-school children. This is 6.5 per cent more than we could achieve if we were to follow the approach of the Westminster government.

But our ambitions are greater still. We have a determination to transform childcare. We have promised that in the first budget of an independent Scotland we would make 600 hours of free childcare available for 50 per cent of two year olds.

This can be funded by choices which are only available with independence – such as ending funding for the Trident missile system.

By the end of the first parliament, following independence, the Scottish Government would almost double childcare provision to 1,140 hours each year for all three and four year olds, and all vulnerable two year olds.

In the longer term we would seek to make those levels of care available to all children from the age of one.

The transformational change would improve care and learning for young children, boost economic growth across Scotland, and remove a major barrier to work for many parents, especially women.

Under devolution, even after the Scotland Act comes into effect, any growth in revenue is merely siphoned off by the Treasury.

With independence it stays in Scotland, to be invested in those things which benefit Scottish families. The SNP Government’s ambitions for childcare involve transforming the structure of our economy and the nature of our society.

Westminster cuts and a declining fixed budget for Scotland do not offer a sustainable prospectus.