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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard, and to follow John Howell. I congratulate my hon. Friend Emma Hardy on securing the debate, and on her tireless work to raise the profile of an issue that for too long has flown beneath the radar, despite having a real and significant impact on our constituents’ lives.
According to the Children’s Society, 1 million children in England live in families that get into debt just to meet the rising cost of school uniforms. One in six families blames school uniform costs for having to cut back on food and other essentials. One resident in my constituency told me she had forked out more than £120 for one child’s school uniform and PE kit. That is a staggering amount to pay, but the reasons why people have to do so are well known. Some schools require compulsory branded items, some request expensive specialist gear, and others use single suppliers and retailers—even getting a financial incentive to do so. As if that were not enough, for many struggling parents this is an annual occurrence, as their children quickly grow out of purchased uniforms, and many must pay to clothe several children.
This summer, in response to the concern among parents in my constituency, I organised the Barnsley East school uniform exchange, which was an opportunity for those who had uniforms they no longer needed to pass them on to other families in need. I was blown away by the response. Not only did we manage to provide uniforms for children and families who might have struggled otherwise, but we helped to facilitate a community’s coming together, sharing resources and helping one another out. It was a testament to the incredible generosity in Barnsley, and such was the response that we already have uniforms ready and waiting to go for the next school year, when I plan to continue the exchange.
Ultimately, however, we should not have to rely on the generosity of our friends and neighbours to help provide even the basics, especially when it comes to children and their experiences in education. Provisions and guidance to schools to ensure that uniforms remain affordable and accessible should be reinstated following their dilution under this Government, and greater ability for local authorities to keep the costs down would undoubtedly make a difference. No family should be left vulnerable, and no child left disadvantaged, because of what for too many is the extortionate price of education. Schools, local authorities and communities can come together to tackle the burden, but action must start with the Government.