School uniforms are costing struggling parents £300 each - now MPs will debate the scandal in Parliament

Daily Mirror - 09 Oct 2018

Campaigners tonight warn of the mounting costs of school uniforms piling pressure on stretched family budgets.

MPs hold a Westminster Hall debate amid growing complaints from parents being priced out of their first-choice school.

It comes after mums and dads reported being forced to buy branded blazers at more than £90, socks at £15 a pair, skirts at £57, hats at nearly £28 and jumpers at more than £20 each.

Independent MP Frank Field, who chairs the Commons Work and Pensions Committee and leads tonight’s debate, will press schools Minister Nick Gibb to urge the Treasury to exempt all school uniform from VAT.

While children’s clothes are spared the 20% levy, some bigger kids need adult sizes, so their parents are slapped with the higher charge.

Mr Field, who resigned the Labour whip earlier this year, wants the Chancellor to announce that all school uniform items, including plain, unbranded trousers, shirts and pullovers, will be exempt.

He also wants more help for poorer families struggling to afford PE kits.

The veteran anti-poverty campaigner said: “When the schools went back a few weeks ago, all too many parents were struggling to put food on the table because they’d had to fork out hundreds of pounds for their children’s new school uniforms and PE kits.

“In this debate, I’ll be asking the Minister to join me in making a plea to the Chancellor on behalf of those hard-up families.

“Two moves in the upcoming Budget – an automatic exemption from VAT on all school uniforms and PE kits, and a statutory requirement for schools to include affordability within their own policies – would begin immediately to ease the burden on families who are down on their luck.”

Recent figures from the NASUWT union highlighted the rising prices of uniforms.

Some 38% of parents and carers polled said they forked out between £101 and £200 per child on school uniform in the last year.

More than a quarter shelled out between £201 and £300.

Some 28% spent between £26 and £50 per child on PE kit and footwear, with 24% saying they coughed up between £51 and £75, and 22% between £76 and £100.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “The evidence is clear - in too many schools the cost of the uniform is leading to selection by wealth.

“Over a quarter of parents are now choosing their child’s school on the basis of whether they can afford to send their child there.

“Schools have a responsibility to make sure that they are abiding by the basic principle of our public services that they are free at the point of use.

“They should make sure uniform is affordable for all.

“Children’s access to educational opportunities should not be on the ability of their parents to pay and yet that is the case for many children across the country.

“This is a shocking indictment of the impact of this Government’s education policies.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “School uniform costs should not be a barrier for any pupil attending or applying to a school of their choice.

“We have already made clear to schools - in written guidance – that when setting uniform policies, they should keep costs to a minimum and be mindful that they are affordable for everyone.

“Decisions about school uniform are made at a local level by school leaders, who are best placed to ensure these policies meet the needs of their pupils.”

Ben Glaze, Daily Mirror