Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, the Poverty Truth Commission and One Parent Families Scotland today welcomed a series of changes to the Education (Scotland) Bill which will help to ensure that children from low income backgrounds are given a better chance of succeeding at school. In particular CPAG highlighted the importance of a new provision which will enable the Scottish Government to ensure that all local authorities offer school clothing grants to low income families, helping them to cope with the growing cost of uniforms.
Amendments tabled by Angela Constance MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning) and supported by the Education and Culture Committee will give Scottish Ministers the power to set a minimum rate at which school clothing grants must be paid.
These changes are particularly welcome given research conducted in August this year which highlighted the extent to which school clothing grants vary form one local authority to the next. The figures - obtained through a series of freedom of information requests - showed that parents on a low income could be given anything from £20 to £110 to put towards school uniforms each year . Indeed Angus had already announced its intention to phase out school clothing grants altogether .
As well as CPAG, The Poverty Truth Commission’s Cost of School Group have been focussing on the inadequate level of the school clothing grant and the increasingly strict demands on uniform from some schools over the last year. One Commissioner noted,
‘School summer holidays are already stressful enough with extra expenses - when it comes to buying school uniforms I dread it. The school clothing grant does not cover the cost of one basic uniform from the cheapest supermarket. I had to borrow £200 and pay it £20 a week from my child tax credit. This is money I could not afford. My children grow at Christmas time and I cannot afford another uniform. I have to make the choice between Christmas gift or school uniform. Sending my children to school is an expense I am finding it increasingly difficult to afford.’ ”
CPAG’s Cost of a School Day project also highlighted the concerns of teachers and other school staff about the impact of insufficient school clothing.
“A lot of our children don’t have indoor shoes, or if they do have them, they’re falling apart. They’re a danger, actually, they’re too small, you see their feet hanging out the back of them... Some don’t have jackets or have got the same jacket all year, some of them are not waterproof.”
The Poverty Truth Commission and CPAG have noted their hope that people with lived experience of poverty are involved in discussions to set and monitor the level at which school clothing grants are paid.
John Dickie, Director of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland;
“This sends a clear message that all education authorities must provide adequate financial awards to low income families to help cover the cost of school clothing. Whilst some councils have increased school clothing grants to reflect the pressure families are under, too many are cutting school clothing grants and in some cases threatening to phase them out altogether. The cost of blazers, shoes, PE kit and winter coats soon adds up and being unable to afford these essential items can leave parents feeling guilty and children embarrassed and unable to fully participate at school. Safeguarding provision of these grants in law will help to ensure that every child in Scotland is being given an equal chance to enjoy and succeed at school.”
Satwat Rehman, Director of One Parent Families Scotland said,
“By the time children return to school in September, single parents are reeling from summer holiday and back-to-school expenses. The poorest parents often end up out of pocket after paying for the extra costs of holiday childcare and play schemes; lunches and keeping the children entertained. We very much welcome this move by Scottish Government to ensure children do not feel the impact and stigma of insufficient school clothing.”
The Scottish Government also used the committee meeting to make assurances that they would work in partnership with local authorities to help reduce wider financial barriers to education. As well as the cost of school uniform, common barriers highlighted through CPAG’s Cost of a School Day research included the cost of transport, the cost of school trips and the cost of equipment and stationary.
For more information please contact: Hanna McCulloch, Policy and Parliamentary Officer, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland – 0141 611 7090 firstname.lastname@example.org
Note to editors
The representatives of the Poverty Truth Commission quoted in this release would be willing to speak to journalists anonymously. For more information please contact Elaine Downie on 0141 248 2911 email@example.com