Ensuring that all children get the best possible start in life is a key priority for the Government. That is why we established the early years change fund in 2012, with local government and the health service, to invest £274 million to deliver transformational change in early years services. That has included establishing the early years collaborative, which is encouraging agencies to work together and intervene early and is building on Scotland’s first-ever early years framework.
We have also invested about £500 million to expand free early learning and childcare to 475 hours for all three and four-year-olds and disadvantaged two-year-olds. We are recruiting 500 additional health visitors by 2018 to support parents in their children’s earliest years.
I am sure that parents and children throughout Scotland very much welcome the more than £0.5 billion of investment that the minister refers to. We are all aware of the impact that poverty can have in early years, but what more can we do in the next Parliament, which we are about to elect?
We fundamentally disagree with the changes that the United Kingdom Government currently proposes and we will continue to develop a Scottish approach to tackle and mitigate the impact of poverty. We are investing £14 million in 2016-17 through our new third sector fund to tackle inequality and help thousands of children, families and communities. We have fully funded free school meals for all primary 1 to P3 pupils, which will deliver a saving for families of at least £380 per child per year and benefit 130,000 children throughout Scotland.
As the First Minister recently announced, we will also extend universal free school meals to all two, three and four-year-olds in early learning and childcare when we expand provision to 30 hours a week. Moreover, if re-elected in May, we will replace the sure start maternity grant with a new and extended maternity and early years allowance, which will increase the amount for the first child, reinstate payments for subsequent children and make payments to low-income families when their children start nursery and school. I could list more that will contribute to a package of measures to give children the very best possible start in life.
As Liz Smith clearly knows well, the named person scheme is an entitlement for all families across the country. It is designed to help families who have told us that they are fed up being passed from pillar to post. It is about co-ordinating services and putting children at the heart of service design and delivery. Liz Smith would do well to look again at her notes on when we passed this unanimously through the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.