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Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:22 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Labour/Co-operative, Vauxhall 10:22 am, 13th March 2020

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mike Amesbury for using his good fortune in the private Member’s Bill ballot to bring forward this critical Bill, which I am sure is welcomed by parents and carers across the country. Many hon. Friends have mentioned this. I still remember that sense of pride many years ago when I first put on my primary school uniform and that sense of belonging to a team. I was in the red team, which made sure that I would join the Labour party later in life.

I am a parent of two young children. When my eldest daughter started reception in September, I remember the sense of pride when we put on her school uniform, yet in the back of my head I could hear my husband going, “How much did that cost?” School uniforms are expensive for a number of families in Vauxhall and across the country. As parents and carers from disadvantaged and lower-income households struggle, these costs are really high; they are struggling from pay cheque to pay cheque. That is the reality.

We need action on lower costs for school uniforms and to provide flexibility for many families who are struggling to get by. That is why I am pleased to support the Bill, which would give the Government the power to set guidance once and for all about the cost of school uniform for parents and prevent the spiralling costs they are seeing up and down the country. The impact of those costs can be severe, with one in six families having to cut back on basic food essentials and one in eight getting into debt just to pay for school uniforms. That should not be happening. When parents and carers cannot afford these costs, their children also face the brunt of it, as we have heard, with some schools imposing draconian school discipline and some kids actually being sent home. The Children’s Society did a survey and reported the experience of a child who was sent home just for wearing the wrong school uniform. I am therefore glad that the Government are accepting the Bill today, but its failure or success will come from the strength of the guidance issued by the Government. I am therefore happy to see the Minister is here listening to all our contributions.

I urge the Government to use guidance to limit the amount of branded items that are strictly necessary. If a school feels that use of its logo is necessary—I think it does provide a sense of emphasis—and is right, it must be sure that parents and carers can use cost-saving measures such as self-attachment without fear of their child being excluded or reprimanded.