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Increase in NI school uniform grant ‘just isn’t enough’, says parents’ campaign group

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A parent-led campaign group has said that the 20% increase promised for Northern Ireland’s school uniform grant “just isn’t enough” when it comes to the ‘actual’ cost of uniforms here.

Speaking to the BBC Naomi McBurney from the Parent Engagement Group said that on the surface, “it seems like a significant uplift”, but that “it will probably be absorbed due to the cost of inflation and parents are not going to benefit from it”.

Currently, the grant rate for a primary school uniform is £35.75. This will rise to £42.90 with the £1m investment brought forward by Education Minister Michelle McIlveen on Monday.

Uniform grant rates will also increase from £51 for pupils under 15 to £61.20, and from £56 to £67.20 for those over the age of 16.

Eligibility for the grant is the same for those who qualify for free school meals for their children - parents who are on low income and are claiming certain welfare allowances, such as tax credits, universal credit, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and a number of other benefits.

“It doesn’t consider those that are just above that £16,000 on tax credits, or £14,000 on Universal Credit, which is not a lot of money given the cost of living crisis that we’re facing at the moment,” Ms McBurney told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

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She also stressed that “this isn’t a cost of living issue”, rather a problem that has been ongoing for a number of years and “is continuing to grow”.

The former UUP candidate added that for school uniform grants in Wales and Scotland, for primary school children, parents receive £130.

For post-primary that number rises to around £285-291 - per child, per year.

“Our research indicated that per primary school child [here], parents are facing approximately £173 per child average costs and £378 for post-primary.”

In 2017, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People asked school principals across the region to “make sure that parents are able to avail of the most affordable options for school uniforms and are not required to purchase expensive items from particular suppliers, or from your school directly if this is your policy”.

Ms McBurney welcomed the step and said that the Department of Education “points towards considering affordability”, but noted that politicians must help implement statutory guidance around the issue.

“The political will just didn’t seem to be supporting it, however we are seeing manifesto commitments from parties to make that change. We need a functioning government [to support that],” the Co Down mother continued.

“Unfortunately, we see that there’s a lot of parents that are missing out, that are just above the threshold and it’s them that are going to feel the real pinch this year.”

The Department of Education has been contacted for a response to Ms McBurney’s comments. 


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