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Bradford school uniform voucher cuts are proposed
Schools could be encouraged to re-design their uniforms to make them cheaper and offer students “hand me downs” to help poor families.
Bradford Council plans to cut youth services by £3.2 million in the next two years and one saving being explored by the council is the scrapping of its “necessitous clothing grants”, which provide parents with help to buy school uniforms and cost £465,000 a year.
The grants are paid in the form of vouchers for £26 to low income households and those on Council benefits.
They are used to purchase uniforms from schools or dedicated shops.
The authority has been urged to reconsider scrapping the grants, which one councillor said would amount to “stealing the shirts off children’s backs”.
But the man in charge of children’s services at the Council feels that even if the grants are scrapped, parents may still be able to get help directly from schools. The Government provides schools with a “pupil premium” for disadvantaged pupils, and may now be encouraged to use some of this money to help parents pay for uniforms.
Next Tuesday, the Council’s Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee will receive a report into possible cuts and ways to soften the blow to children and vulnerable families.
The report says: “This proposal could impact on children from low income households, and in deprived areas of the district, who are more reliant on a grant to purchase a school uniform.”
Among the “mitigation” proposed to deal with the cuts are asking schools to support low income families themselves through the pupil premiums, re-designing school uniforms to make them cheaper and consider setting up a “nearly new” provision to recycle uniforms.
It also says that because the vouchers required families to buy uniforms in specialist shops, scrapping them would free up parents to “benefit from the lower cost of uniforms on sale in large supermarket chains”.
Coun Ralph Berry, in charge of children’s services, said: “These are just proposals, it is not certain these grants will end.
“A significant number of schools are already making provisions for uniform grants from their pupil premiums and we are having discussions with schools to expand this.
“We are one of the last councils in the country that still offer these. Cutting them is not nice or something I like to do, but we do have to plug a huge gap.”
He says more simple, and cheap, school uniforms could help lots of families, adding: “It would be better for parents to be able to buy more generic uniforms from mainstream supermarkets. If schools want uniforms that are expensive or fancy they should provide them themselves.”
Coun Jeanette Sunderland, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “All the years I’ve been a councillor, officers have tried to cut this grant and it would be outrageous if the Labour Council did this now. I can’t believe that while the Council is considering spending money on building new swimming pools they are planning to take the shirts off the backs of our most vulnerable children.”
Martin Stokes is an 18-year-old former pupil of Tong High School who has previously campaigned against the high cost of school uniforms with charity Save the Children.
He said: “Cutting these grants would be a ridiculous idea – families need it.
“Suggesting that pupils could have ‘nearly new’ uniforms is ridiculous, it is downgrading them. If this goes ahead a lot of these pupils will get bullied. Some already get bullied if they have tatty uniforms.
“But I do think trying to make uniforms cheaper is a good idea.”
Jessica Firth, of the school uniform supplier group that runs Andrew Firth’s in Keighley and Henry Smith’s in Shipley, said: “We frequently come face-to-face with those who most need school uniform vouchers. To us, it is glaringly obvious that cutting this vital resource would directly affect many families.”
Andrew Allcoat, manager of Rawcliffe’s on Darley Street, Bradford, also said large numbers of parents seemed to rely on the vouchers when it came to uniform shopping. “It does help a lot of families, and if they were to cut it I think it would really effect them.”
He said some schools were already looking at reducing the cost of their uniform, adding: “We have already spoken to a few schools about them making their uniforms more simple by redesigning them.”
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