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Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:35 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Labour, St Helens South and Whiston 10:35 am, 13th March 2020

It is a pleasure to speak in favour of this Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend Mike Amesbury, who has truly identified a real issue faced by millions of families across the country. The Bill takes the necessary steps required to alleviate the problem.

The cost of a uniform can vary dramatically across a community and across the country, with the only uniformity being that the relatively cheapest uniform is still extremely expensive. The school uniform serves a wide range of important functions. It provides a uniformity for what young people wear to school, regardless of their family’s financial situation. A young person cannot be made fun of because their family cannot afford the most up-to-date clothes, for example. This uniformity, which was in part designed to help some of the poorest in our society, is in fact now placing an undue cost on families.

In my constituency alone, the cost of a branded blazer is between £31 and £37, a tie is £6.50 and a PE top is £15. The average cost of a secondary school uniform is £340. In its 2020 update, the Children’s Society has announced that this cost is now even higher, with costs rising to £361. Some 43% of parents said that the cost of school uniform alone had affected their families in some way, and one in 10 families reported getting into debt trying to pay for uniform costs. We also need to bear in mind that this is a yearly, and sometimes twice yearly, cost. Some Members in this Chamber may hear “£37 for a blazer” and think, “That’s not too bad”, but as young people grow their uniform often needs replacing yearly and sometimes twice a year, so these figures become an annual cost. This leads to poorer families being unable to replace worn out or outgrown school uniforms, which leads to stigmatisation and bullying, meaning that uniforms are failing to meet their purpose of providing a baseline for all.

I know that we cannot do away with the cost of uniforms altogether, and I welcome the work that Governments have done on this matter previously. The Government’s advisory guidance, for example, does emphasise the importance of cost considerations. However, as we have heard from the contributions of my hon. Friend Rob Butler, and my hon. Friends the Members for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) and for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), who have made good contributions, this guidance is not enough and is seven years out of date. It also lacks the teeth required to make schools lower the cost of uniforms, although I am aware that many schools have schemes to help.

This Bill is so important because it will empower the Government to take the statutory steps necessary to alleviate the financial burden being placed on families across the county. The Government have already pledged to make their guidance statutory, as stated in in the 2015 better markets plan. My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale has helpfully drawn up the Bill up for the Government, and I can see no reason why they would wish to oppose it, given that it is in line with their own stated aims and is admirably written. By passing this Bill into law, the Government can take the necessary steps to limit the amount of items that must be branded. It is often this branding that increases the cost of uniforms, as families are forced to purchase from a single provider.