I have just returned from the annual shopping trip to buy essentials for school. I very begrudgingly spent a small fortune on a brightly coloured backpack and tried to reconcile the loss of £84 on two pairs of school shoes that may or may not last until Christmas. Their feet are growing and quality shoes are important (on repeat). Perhaps I've been scammed.
The reality is that I actually extended my overdraft in order to afford these things for my children, I bought as much of the uniform as I could from the supermarket and have reused as much as possible from last year, which, by the way, isn’t much because, shock horror children grow. I’m lucky that my five year old believes he looks like an Italian footballer in his sisters old cardigans and proudly wears them to school still.
I know all too well that I am one of the lucky ones. I can go into a shop and buy the shoes and the pencils … not without worry or concern for eventually how I can pay for them (yet, safe and lucky in the knowledge that I will get another pay cheque) but definitely without worrying that I also won’t be able to pay a bill or feed my children.
When First Days Charity started 5 years ago I used to tell people that it was a project that was needed as a result of austerity and I hope that it wouldn’t become a permanent feature of people’s day to day survival. Sadly, 5 years later, we have become a lifeline for people. Where they previously would have got into dangerous, high interest unsecured debt, we can help by providing the things they need. Where before, parents would go hungry in order to make sure their child had a winter coat we can provide the coat and the parent gets to eat (often with the help of the foodbank).
4.1 million children in the UK live in poverty. 4.1 million children whose parents are often working full time and who in the next week or two will be wondering how on earth they can keep a roof over their heads whilst getting their children ready for school.
As a country we need to do more. Services like ours, where families can get second hand and new school uniforms for free, are few and far between (we are the only one we know of who operates on this scale). They are costly and fundraising in small charities is a nearly impossible slog - whether we'll continue to be able to offer this service depends on money raised year to year.
Whilst we are glad we can help people in their immediate time of need we want to see lasting change to the underlying causes of this - we believe that schools and the government have a responsibility to do more.
You don't have to be local to us in Berkshire to make a huge difference to all the families struggling. Our #MakeUniformsAffordable campaign is for everyone:
The Government needs to scrap the VAT it charges on school uniforms in larger sizes. This is disenfranchising children and their parents and is simply not fair. You can sign our petition here.
Schools need to take a good look at their uniform policy and make it as affordable as they possibly can. It’s easy to take the steps to do this - here’s how.