Poor pupils in Edinburgh missing out on school uniform assistance

Donning a smart new uniform marks the first day back at school for many but for city kids living in poverty it can be fraught with stress.

Linda Russell with Donna Squires, Penny Baillie and Julia Grindley from Edinburgh School Uniform Bank
Linda Russell with Donna Squires, Penny Baillie and Julia Grindley from Edinburgh School Uniform Bank

The council provides families in need with schoolwear grants but Edinburgh sits almost bottom of the league table in providing assistance for uniforms.

The current rates of £43 per primary school child and £50 for secondary school child were set in 2001 and have not been increased since.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring West Lothian the same grants are £94 and £110.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said the amounts set are not enough to adequately clothe children with the cost now at £129.50. One parent told the charity: “I wasn’t sure at first if I could afford to send all my children back to school on the right day because of the cost of school uniforms and the school being so strict about them wearing it.”

Just under 5,000 children and young people receive grants for school uniform in the Capital and a proposal by Green councillors ahead of the budget next week will propose the first increase in school 
uniform assistance in nearly 20 years.

Green Cllr Mary Campbell said: “In the Green manifesto for the 2017 council elections we made a very clear commitment to increase school clothing grants to make them reflect actual costs.

“It is time to put our manifesto commitment into action. The lowest income families have faced a direct attack on their incomes from UK government policies for almost a decade now. While councils cannot make good on all of those attacks, where they are able to make a difference, they should.

“Providing properly-funded support to put young people on an equal footing on what they wear to school is one such step.”

The proposal will call on councillors to agree an increase in grants in line with benchmarks calculated by CPAG which reflect the actual costs of school clothing, including uniform, PE kit and school bag – estimated at over £400,000 a year.

The charity said the impact on pupils can be staggering, leaving them feeling awkward and self conscious.

Director of CPAG John Dickie said: “This is a big opportunity to build on the real progress the council has made in reducing the costs barriers low income families face at school. Our work suggests the minimum costs of kitting out a child for school is £129.50 so an increase to the current Edinburgh grant is much needed.

“It would provide a direct financial boost for those families who are both in poverty and at most risk of poverty, ensure children are able to participate and enjoy school more easily and free up family resources for other essentials such as food and energy bills.”

Linda Russell, of the Edinburgh School Uniform Bank, who distribute uniforms to pupils across the city said, addressing the need is vital. “Although we wish there wasn’t, we recognise there is a need. In 2017 we supported over 300 children – increasing the grants could help address the imbalance.”