School uniform costs driving families into debt: Clarke

DUP councillor Trevor Clarke
DUP councillor Trevor Clarke

A DUP councillor has said families are being pushed into financial hardship by the cost of buying school uniforms.

Trevor Clarke, a DUP councillor in Coleraine, said: “As the new school year draws near, school uniform shopping season is at its’ peak.

“This is an expensive exercise, with costs in some instances amounting to £300-£400 per pupil. Constituents with larger families and those on low incomes are struggling to cover the costs of clothing their children in order that they can comply with school uniform policy.

“The issue clearly isn’t confined to Coleraine, as a recent Credit Union survey of 1,000 families found 30 percent of respondents were putting themselves into debt to send their children back to school.

“In the same survey more than 7 in 10 parents said getting ready to go back to school was a financial burden. Grant assistance is available from the Education Authority to help with the cost of school uniforms, but its’ availability is limited to families on benefits or those who are in receipt of tax credits.

“The annual assistance available where the income criteria are met is £56 for pupils over 15, with a further £22 available to those taking PE. This is obviously a widespread issue as the North Eastern Region of the Education Authority is currently dealing with 11,000 applications for uniform grant.

“There are matters here for the Education Minister and school Boards of Governors. School uniform poverty is not an acceptable situation as there should not be any barriers to education. I believe onerous school uniform requirements should be reviewed by Boards of Governors and if possible relaxed.

“In addition, the Education Minister should increase the value and extend the criteria of the limited financial support currently available to hard-pressed families.”