End 'rip-off' of soaring school uniform costs to boost social mobility, Frank Field urges ministers

The Daily Telegraph - 08 Oct 2018
School uniforms should be made VAT-free to bring down their "rip-off" prices and boost social mobility, ministers will be urged this week.

Frank Field, the independent MP, said ministers should end the school uniform “rip- off” and lift VAT from 13-14 year olds to 18 year olds for school clothes would help social mobility and poorer families.

Some families have to spend hundreds of pounds on new uniforms every September.

Mr Field will raise his concerns in a debate when MPs return to work in the House of Commons tomorrow. 

Mr Field will set out how parents are often forced to spend between £250 and £300 on school PE kit and sports equipment, shoes, trainers as well as shirts/blouses, skirts/trousers, ties, jumpers, shoes, socks, tights, blazer and coat.

Some parents are forced to ask the children’s grandparents for help with the costs of uniform.

Clothing and shoes for young children have been charged a zero rate of VAT since the introduction of the tax on 1 April 1973.

The problem is that there is no definition of the term "young children" in VAT law. 

Instead, the VAT relief is based on the maximum size an average child will be on their 14th birthday.

This means that clothes for older children, as well as many children under the age of 14 who are larger than average, are taxed at 20 per cent, including school uniform.

Mr Field told The Daily Telegraph that the punitive costs of paying for school uniforms were "becoming a barrier to social mobility".

He said: “For all too many families in Birkenhead, the impact of these rip-off costs on household budgets has been catastrophic. 

“Poorer parents have had to fork out huge sums for their children’s uniforms and PE kits, often at the expense of putting food on the table.

“The upcoming Budget affords the Chancellor a golden opportunity to add a vital layer of protection to these families’ living standards. 

“By exempting all items of school clothing from VAT, and ensuring adequate help is available for the poorest families, the Government would place itself firmly on the side of parents trying desperately to make their budget stretch from one week to the next.”

Christopher Hope, Daily Telegraph