MPs across the House must unite to make school uniforms more affordable
Being able to afford uniforms is becoming harder every year. But despite widespread support, the School Uniforms Bill could still fall unless members across the House unite behind it.
Today is a big day for the House and an even bigger day for hard-pressed families up and down our nation.
My School Uniforms Bill has reached the next stage in the House of Commons with an opportunity for members to make a real difference to people’s lives.
The aim is to reduce the cost of uniforms for families struggling to make ends meet as well as extending consumer choice by opening up a restricted market.
Many schools currently insist parents buy expensive bespoke and branded clothing, often from a single supplier. If my Bill becomes law, it will create new statutory guidance for schools across England that puts affordability for families centre stage.
Creating a financial saving is especially important right now given the pandemic has pushed many more families into hardship, as well as exposing long-standing inequalities. Many school children come from families for whom poverty is an everyday experience.
We know the health risks and economic hardships of Covid are far from over. When many families are spending lockdowns worried about their finances, why should the cost of uniforms add to their list of concerns?
As my Bill has made its way through Parliament - the Education (Guidance about Cost of School Uniforms) Bill - I’ve spoken to charities, schools and families across the country, and it’s clear that being able to afford uniforms is becoming harder every year.
Families that try to make do and mend, or buy uniforms from cheaper places can face bullying, or even be penalised by their school
I believe strongly that uniforms are a good thing. They remove the pressure on children of having to keep up with the latest fashions and encourage a sense of school pride. But too many schools are needlessly applying high prices which make it hard for some students to feel pride in what they wear.
I’ve been shocked to learn just how many items are required to be bespoke in some schools. It goes far beyond the more traditional blazers and ties: items that vary by ‘houses’, logoed PE kits and branded drama socks.
Often, the school will have an exclusive agreement with one provider, a monopoly that essentially allows them to set high prices but also limits consumer choice by excluding other suppliers.
To me this undermines one of the key aims of uniform – to remove the peer pressure of having to wear the ‘right’, often expensive, clothes. Families that try to make do and mend, or buy uniforms from cheaper places can face bullying, or even be penalised by their school.
Reducing the cost of uniforms is a cross-party issue. MPs from across the House sponsored the Bill – I’m very grateful for their support – and the government has got on board too. I’ve worked closely with the schools minister and the Children’s Society to ensure the new guidance would address the issues families worry about most.
It seems timely we are considering this issue again now, in a week when millions of children dusted down their uniforms in a mass return to school, as lockdown begins to ease. I am grateful the Leader of the House has listened to the Children’s Society and found time for the Bill to be heard.
But despite widespread support, it could still fall when this Parliamentary session ends unless members across the House unite behind it and ensure it clears the next hurdle.
Baroness Lister, with her honourable background as former Director of the Child Poverty Action Group, has agreed to sponsor the Bill through the Lords. But the timescale is tight.
I call upon Members from across the House to give this Bill their full backing and help families struggling in their constituency, and across the country.
Mike Amesbury is the Labour MP for Weaver Vale.