Call for council to subsidise school uniforms for struggling Hertfordshire families rejected

The Lib Dems proposed the move at a meeting of the county council

By Deborah Price, Local Democracy Reporter
Thursday, 24th February 2022, 11:21 am
Updated Thursday, 24th February 2022, 11:22 am

Lib Dem councillors have called for the county council to offer greater support to struggling families with the cost of school uniform.

At the budget-setting meeting of the county council, on Tuesday (February 22), Liberal Democrats proposed that £350k be made available as a school uniform subsidy for low income families.

During the debate, Liberal Democrat Laurence Brass said that in financial terms this was small - but would make a huge difference to families affected by it.

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Statutory guidance on the cost of school uniforms has been issued by the Secretary of State

And he pointed to reports of families cutting back on food and heating to cover the cost of school uniforms.

Although he acknowledged that some schools kept spare items of uniform - as well as running schemes to sell on or swap used items - he said there were families who still wanted or needed to fund new items.

And he pointed to some councils that offered grants to cover the cost of school uniform, but he said Hertfordshire was not one of them.

"[...] I urge colleagues, therefore, to think today about the poorer families that need help on this important subject," he said.

"Let's not be found wanting at this critical time."

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Fellow Liberal Democrat Cllr Sara Bedford said families should not be choosing between filling bellies, buying blazers or being able to switch on the boiler.

And she said it was difficult to find an issue that was more important than looking after the poorest children, who deserved to be warm and well fed, to have dignity and a decent future.

Executive member for education, libraries and lifelong learning Cllr Terry Douris acknowledged 'a passionate plea' had been made about school uniforms.

And he referred to statutory guidance that had been issued by Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi in November (2021).

According to that 'cost of school uniform' guidance, schools in England should ensure school uniform costs are reasonable - and that parents get the best value for money.

It also suggests schools will have to make sure second hand uniforms are available.

And schools are expected to have taken steps to adhere to the new guidance by September this year (2022).

At the meeting of the full council Cllr Douris said he thought that the guidance would bring down the cost of school uniforms.

And he said most schools also had a small fund that could be used to support those who were finding it difficult to procure items of school uniform.

The proposal for the £350k fund to support Hertfordshire families struggling with the cost of school uniforms was included in a package of Liberal Democrat budget amendments, proposed by Cllr Sally Symington. But the amendment was not backed by the council.