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Sinn Fein MLA Maskey's anger over £3m school uniform cut threat due to political deadlock

By Jonathan Bell

Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey has branded a potential cut to uniform grants for those on low incomes as an attack on families and children.

The Education Authority has said the Department of Education has told it to to cut funding for uniforms by £3million.

Almost £5million was spent in the past financial year, whereas if this cut goes ahead there will be just under £2million for families to clothe their children for school. It's thought all those eligible for the money would still receive the cash, but a substantially reduced amount for what they need.

Almost 100,000 children are eligible for the funding.

Read more: Budget fears push Northern Ireland school to fundraise so services can continue

Extended schools funding, which provides resources for homework clubs, summer schemes and breakfast clubs, is also facing a cut of around £1m. The entitlement framework, which sets out the number of courses schools offer, is also facing a cut although there has been no decision as yet on how much.

The Department of Education has said it has to work within the budget laid out by the Secretary of State, brought about by the current political impasse.

West Belfast MLA Alex Maskey blamed Tory austerity.

"This proposed reduction is an attack on children and families from deprived communities and a further result of Tory austerity cuts," he said.

"Since the Tories came into power we have seen over a billion cut from the north's block grant.

"The DUP in their support for Theresa May's Tory government has handed them a blank cheque for their cuts and a Tory Brexit.

"I have asked for urgent meetings with both the Education Authority and the Department and will be calling on them to reverse this cut immediately."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said: “As a consequence of the indicative budget for the Department of Education announced by the Secretary of State on 24th April, the department faces major financial pressures in 2017-18 if it is to operate within its budget.

"Consequently options to reduce spending across all programme areas are being explored, including the clothing allowance (uniform grants), extended schools and the entitlement framework. 

"Final decisions on the scale of the budget reductions have not been taken on all areas and will depend on the department’s final budget allocation. Those decisions that have been made have been communicated to the relevant organisations.”

The Education Authority added: "In its recent Resource Budget Allocation letter, the Department of Education (DE) has instructed the Education Authority (EA) to make certain spending cuts to achieve budget savings.  These include a reduction in £3million for school uniform grants.”

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