Peterborough MP Lisa Forbes: Time for action on uniform costs

School uniform prices have been in the news recently
School uniform prices have been in the news recently
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Why should a full school uniform cost hundreds of pounds? It’s a question that I heard from parents on the doorstep in the recent by-election, and since I’ve been elected as their MP, writes Peterborough MP Lisa Forbes.

That’s why I’ve made it the subject of my first parliamentary motion as an MP, a so-called ‘Early Day Motion’. For everyone who doesn’t follow the strange jargon of Parliament, the ‘early day’ never actually comes, so I can’t yet force a vote, but the motion is recorded, allowing MPs to raise an issue and try to gain support from other MPs.   

I’m pleased that my EDM has done so, with signatures from many other Labour MPs as well as members of other parties ranging from the Liberal Democrats to the DUP. Clearly, this is something that parents are raising with MPs across the country.  

The Conservative Government once agreed. Back in 2015, they announced plans to issue statutory guidance for schools on uniforms, with rules to ensure fairer costs. But four years later, there has been no action.

Yet if anything, the problem now is even worse. After four more years of Tory austerity, even more parents are feeling the pinch. A recent survey from Buttle UK found a huge majority of frontline support workers are seeing more families in extreme poverty. There is increasing financial pressure on many parents who simply want the best possible start in life for their children.

At the same time, we are seeing more cases like that highlighted in last week’s Peterborough Telegraph where parents suddenly face a three-figure annual bill to buy uniforms from a single specialist shop.

Schools too are suffering after years of Tory cuts, leaving them desperate to raise funds and lacking resources to help parents.

Meanwhile, Peterborough’s Conservative-led council has decided to axe the ‘school uniform grant’ that once provided struggling families with help.

The combination of disastrous welfare changes, loss of school uniform grants, and cuts to the education budget mean that uniform costs have become an excessive burden to parents across the country.

There are simple solutions. When I was at school, my parents were able to buy a generic uniform with a sew-on logo for me. In these tough times, this should be common practice instead of parents being forced to shell out exorbitant amounts.

If the government provided the statutory guidance that they promised and reversed the disgraceful cuts to school budgets, the affordability of school uniforms could be guaranteed in the future.

In response to my parliamentary questions on this, Ministers suggested schools could offer cut-price second-hand uniforms.

While I welcome schools taking action on this, it seems to me that the government is shirking responsibility instead of keeping their own promise to act themselves. They have told me that they’re waiting for parliamentary time, but they have had more than enough time over the last four years. Simply, they have failed.

Parents on the breadline have been left waiting long enough – now it’s time for action, not words.