Belfast Telegraph

Uniform grant cuts a new blow to families

Editor's Viewpoint

School uniforms serve two purposes - they are the brand of the particular institution and they bring (literally) uniformity to the dress code in the classroom. Every child, irrespective of background or affluence of their parents will look the same.

But it comes at a price, and often quite an eye-watering one for parents who may be struggling on benefits or low income. As our story today points out, some uniforms can cost up to £200-300 for the usual blazer, shirt/blouse, trousers/skirts, socks and shoes. But there may be additional costs for PE gear and teaching aids such as electronic tablets. Factor in other extra-curricular costs such as trips and hard-pressed parents may blanche at the price of their children's education.

Many will be up in arms at the decision announced yesterday to radically reduce funding for a scheme which grant-aids needy parents towards the cost of uniforms.

The reduction in the Clothing Allowance Scheme from £4.9m in the last financial year to £1.9m this year will mean a drastic reduction from the 98,000 grants which were given last year.

That proves the need for the scheme, but unfortunately the political impasse at Stormont, which has prevented power-sharing being restored, has led to a reduction in the budget available to the Department of Education.

It is yet another example of how ordinary people throughout the province and of all political persuasions are being hit by the reluctance of the two main parties - Sinn Fein and the DUP - to reach compromise on their conflicting demands. As ever, there is the usual blame game being conducted, with each pointing the finger at the other, but everyone is tiring of the posturing and just wants a working administration restored.

While the grants available for school uniforms may not have been large, they still make a significant impact for parents on low incomes or with several children at school.

It would be disastrous if any child was to miss out on going to the school of their choice because their parents could not afford to buy the uniform.

Schools should be aware of the financial pressures on parents in the current economic climate and make uniforms as affordable as possible, and a scheme run by one school offering second-hand uniforms at bargain prices should be more widely adopted.

Meanwhile, as pupils are often told, the political parties must try harder next term.

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