DORSET families will benefit from more than £19 million of government funding for free childcare and school meals.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced that £16,238,272 will go to state schools in Dorset to provide universal free school meals to all infants.

Every child in reception and years one and two in state-funded schools will be able to receive a free school lunch, saving parents who currently pay for a school lunch more than £400 a year per child.

Also, a £3,242,535 grant will pay for free childcare for two-year-olds in Dorset who come from lower income households.

Councils across the country will receive more than £755 million of government funding to provide 15 hours a week of free childcare for 40 per cent of two year olds from September next year.

In the South West, more than £55.5 million will be available to increase the number of children who will have access to free childcare from 11,200 to 20,800.

Mr Clegg said: “Making free school meals available for infants in the South West means children won’t miss out on getting a healthy meal during the day.

“This is good for their health and their studies.

“Parents can fork out around £400 for school lunches for each child every year. We want to do all we can to help ease the pressure on household budgets, and free school meals can help put money back in the pockets of these families.”

Education and Childcare Minister, Elizabeth Truss, said the money for free childcare places will help support parents who want to work.

She added: “Encouraging school nurseries to open from 8am-6pm rather than 9am-3pm and passing on funding to good and outstanding childminders will help offer places at the times we know parents need them.”