Professor Scott Arthur: A uniform approach to fighting child poverty

Councillor Professor Scott Arthur
Councillor Professor Scott Arthur
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I grew up in a single parent household in one of the UK’s most deprived areas – a Kirkcaldy council estate during the 1980s miner’s strike.

My route out of that was to work hard at school and go on to complete a degree and eventually a PhD.

I was lucky as my family understood the difference education could make to my life chances. This wasn’t because they were well educated themselves – they had ability but were not given the same opportunity in the 1940s and 1950s.

I was not allowed days off school, and I was one of only two people from a huge housing scheme to ‘stay on’ at school. Most importantly, a school uniform had to be worn.

The school uniform was not an easy thing for my father to provide me and my brothers with, he had to rely on two aunts and my gran to ensure I had one.

I had largely forgotten about this experience until the school year started again in August and I read a news report on the support available to low income families to help them equip their children for school.

It outlined how the School Uniform Grant varies from £40 (North Ayrshire) to £110 (West Lothian) in Scotland, while the Poverty Truth Commission estimates the actual cost to be £129.50 “even when shopping at supermarkets and bargain stores”.

It made me feel ashamed to know that, 30 years after I left school, ­families are still struggling to afford school uniforms.

Worse than that, I was angry to hear Edinburgh offers one of the lowest grants – only £43-£50. Pretty much as soon as I read the report, I donated £129.50 to the Edinburgh School Uniform Bank.

Don’t get me wrong, I have ­listened with great pride to all the work the council is doing to ensure finance is not a barrier to education, but we all must be ashamed that the lack of a uniform that fits is a barrier to kids reaching their full potential.

Why does this matter? It is now an accepted fact that child poverty is rising in the UK. However, we also must accept that City of Edinburgh Council, Holyrood and Westminster all have a duty to use their powers to reverse this trend.

In my view a key part of that is ensuring children are equipped to attend school as, I believe, education is key to ending the kind of poverty which is handed down from generation to generation. With all that in mind, I drafted my first motion as a City of Edinburgh councillor.

With traditional Labour values at its core, the motion asked for a city-wide review of the support available to low income families to help them equip their children for school.

In a council that is divided on everything from weed control to speed limits, I’m quite proud to say every party supported my motion and we should see real change soon.

In these financially constrained times, however, it will not be easy to find the £129.50 for every child that needs it.

That’s why I’m keen we also work with third sector partners to ensure every child is fully equipped to reach their full potential at school and help us reverse the trend in child poverty.

Professor Scott Arthur is a Labour councillor representing Edinburgh’s Colinton/Fairmilehead Ward.