I recognise the current challenges faced by families and public services. We know that things are tough out there, which is why we are acting in the national interest and why we have secured funding to increase the schools budget by £2 billion next year and the year after. All education settings are benefiting from the energy bill relief scheme, which will protect them from excessively high energy bills over the winter. In addition, we are committed to supporting the most vulnerable households through the toughest part of the year with additional direct support, and we are supporting schools and parents to make sure that we can all get through this.
I, too, welcome the Education Secretary and her team to the Front Bench. I thank her for that response, but I point out that due to runaway costs, schools can barely stay open for five days a week, let alone provide transport. Home-to-school transport is being pared back and public transport, certainly in east Durham, is unreliable and deteriorating. Can she give us some good news and tell us what she is doing to ensure that schools can afford to pay their heating bills and stay open? How will she guarantee access to education during the cost of living crisis?
I can give the hon. Gentleman good news, because we heard in the autumn statement that education will be funded by an extra £2 billion next year and the year after. We will be working through how that will affect schools; each school will get its individual allocation. School funding is £4 billion higher this year compared with last year, and the autumn statement has confirmed that increase, which takes the core schools budget to an historic high of £58.8 billion. That will deliver significant additional support to pupils and teachers and will, I am sure, be welcomed by the sector.
What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to promote the Government’s Healthy Start scheme, and to ensure that eligible families receive the vouchers to which they are entitled?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The Healthy Start scheme, on which we are working with the Department of Health and Social Care, delivers healthy foods and milk for women over 10 weeks’ pregnant or anyone with a child under four. Beyond this, our investment in families is very important, and we are also investing £300 million in the Start for Life family hubs, which will complement all of the others. We will of course make sure that people are aware of all the schemes in those family hubs.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her new position, and indeed her team.
It was deplorable that the Chancellor failed to expand free school meals in his autumn statement. It means that at least 100,000 schoolchildren in poverty in England will continue to be denied a nutritious meal at school, which puts additional pressure on parents trying to provide for them. Will the Secretary of State urge the Chancellor to replicate the work of the Scottish Government, who have committed to providing universal free school meals to all primary children?
We understand the pressures that many households are under, and that is why we are spending more than £1.6 billion per year so that children have access to nutritious meals during the school day and in holidays. The Government have indeed expanded free school meals more than any other Government in recent decades. We have put in place generous protection that means families on universal credit will also retain their free school meal eligibility. We now have a third of children in this country on free school meals, and I know that is very welcome for the families. We will have extended free school meals, and we will continue to support further education students with them as well.