Joy at U-turn over school uniform grants cut in Northern Ireland
A proposed £3m cut to a school uniform grants scheme for low income families has been halted by the Department of Education, following months of outrage and a political blame game over the austerity plan.
Tens of thousands of parents and politicians had attacked plans to slash the Clothing Allowance Scheme from the £4.9m spent in 2016/17 to £1.9m for 2017/18.
But the Education Department yesterday said it had made a U-turn and spending on the allowance would remain at the 2016/17 level.
It comes after the Belfast Telegraph yesterday revealed how parents of children at Lurgan Junior High School were outraged at a decision to revamp the Year 8 PE uniform, giving sole stockist rights to Donagh's in Banbridge. It is charging up to £63 for the new kit, which includes a £9 pair of socks.
A departmental spokesman said the decision not to go ahead with the cut "will allow the Education Authority to make payments to families at the existing rates".
"The Department continues to deal with major financial pressures and explore a range of measures which would allow it to live within the indicative 2017/18 budget," he said.
"Following Secretary of State James Brokenshire's written statement last week on Northern Ireland departments' budget allocations, the Department has been able to finalise decisions on budget allocations across a range of programmes including deciding to maintain funding for the uniform allowance at current rates.
"The Department will be issuing allocation letters to relevant organisations in the coming days."
About 98,000 pupils in Northern Ireland received a grant to help them buy their uniforms during the last school year.
The amount of help ranges from £35.75 for a primary school child to £56 for a post-primary pupil over the age of 15.
All Stormont departments are operating on a reduced budget due to the collapse of the power-sharing arrangements.
The DUP and Sinn Fein have blamed each other for the stalemate which both sides admit has caused a knock-on effect to financing for funds such as the Clothing Allowance Scheme.
Sinn Fein MLA Karen Mullan last night welcomed the decision to reverse the proposed cut. The Foyle MLA was speaking after she and party colleague Caoimhe Archibald met with the Education Authority in Belfast.
She said: "Sinn Fein opposed this cut since it was announced as it was an attack on children and families from deprived communities.
"We demanded today that the Education Authority reverse this cut so I am delighted that it has now done so.
"This news will provide some reassurance to parents as the processing of applications normally takes place in August."
Ulster Unionist education spokesperson Rosemary Barton MLA also welcomed the announcement.
The former school teacher said: "The previous announcement should never have been made. It was a direct consequence of some local politicians abdicating their responsibilities and placing crucial decisions in the hands of civil servants."