Petition to reinstate school uniform grant in Bedford rejected by council

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Council says it provides other measures that give families "substantial sums"

A petition to reinstate grants for school uniforms has been rejected by Bedford Borough Council.

But the council said its other measures give low income families “flexible and substantial sums” in their pockets, enabling them to prioritise the costs they are facing.

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A petition to reinstate the school uniform grant was presented to councillors by Charlene Bortey at the full council meeting on Tuesday (February 28).

A petition to reinstate the school uniform grant was presented to councillorsA petition to reinstate the school uniform grant was presented to councillors
A petition to reinstate the school uniform grant was presented to councillors

She said: “The school uniform grant programme is essential to ensure that all children have equal access to education regardless of their economic or social background.

“By providing financial assistance to families who cannot afford school uniforms the programme helps to reduce the financial burden on low income families and ensures that all students can attend school with dignity and pride.”

Ms Bortey said she knew that some PTA committees sold second-hand uniforms, but suggested that some people may feel “completely exposed” if they reveal how much they are struggling behind closed doors.

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The council’s portfolio holder for finance, councillor Michael Headley, said the council hasn’t offered a specific uniform grant for “many years”.

“What we want to do is support people who are most impacted by the cost of living crisis, and we want to do that by helping people in a way that’s as flexible as possible,” he said.

“We think that gives people the best opportunity to prioritise for themselves the costs that they are facing,” he said.

Councillor Headley said that through the various schemes and support available, the council is “making a difference of around £800 to £900 per year for a family on the lowest income with two children”.

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He added that there is statutory guidance on school uniforms that schools must follow.

“I know some schools do offer financial help and do actually support parents who can’t afford the uniforms,” he said.

“But I think we should take this opportunity to contact schools and urge them to do as much as they can to support families at this time, particularly with school uniform costs,” he said.

Councillor Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle) put forward an amendment to councillor Headley’s motion to write to schools to include an investigation into the cost of an academic year payment.

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“Of say £100 per pupil and to investigate the cost of that and then perhaps come back and look if we could find that money,” she said.

Councillor Healey said the cost to provide a £100 uniform grant to every child in the borough in recipt of free school meals is £665,000.

“Could we investigate if that money can be found?” councillor Bywater asked.

“At the last council meeting there was a bit of a struggle to say we can’t raise council tax and we can manage without raising council tax.

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“But here’s an example of where money can’t be found apparently, a relatively small amount of money, but it would affect a significant amount of families,” she said.

Councillor Bywater’s amendment was defeated.

Members then voted to ask the council’s chief education officer to write to all schools, thank them for the support they already give families, and ask them to do whatever they can to support families for whom the cost of the school uniform is unaffordable.