‘U-turn’ on plans to slash school uniform funding welcomed

The clothing allowance (uniform grants) for the 2017/18 school year will remain at 2016 levels.
The clothing allowance (uniform grants) for the 2017/18 school year will remain at 2016 levels.

A U-turn on planned funding cuts for school uniform grants has been welcomed.

The Department of Education confirmed on Tuesday that funding for the clothing allowance for the 2017/18 school year will remain at 2016 levels.

The move came after widespread dismay over proposals to cut the grant by £3m, with opponents warning would have impacted on thousands of local families.

The Department of Education had previously instructed the Education Authority to make the savings by cutting the cost of the school uniform grants scheme.

At present the families and carers of almost 100,00 children across the North are in line to receive school uniform grants of up to £78 per child.

A Department spokesman said: “This decision will allow the Education Authority to make payments to families at the existing rates.

“The department continues to deal with major financial pressures and explore a range of measures which would allow it to live within the indicative 2017/18 budget.

“Following the Secretary of State’s written statement last week on Northern Ireland departments’ budget allocations, the department has been able to finalise decisions on budget allocations across a range of programmes including deciding to maintain funding for the uniform allowance at current rates. The department will be issuing allocation letters to relevant organisations in the coming days.”

Local politicians have welcomed the u-turn.

SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H. Durkan said: “The proposed cut to the uniform grant was a ridiculously bad decision.

“The cut was an attack on the most vulnerable and would have caused major financial stress for families.

“Many families across my constituency contacted me worried about how they were going to afford uniforms and were daunted with the prospect of not having all that was needed by their children for school in September.

“My SDLP colleagues and I pressed for a reversal of the decision and made a number of representations to the Department and the Education Authority. I welcome that common sense has prevailed.”

Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan, who had met with the Education Authority in Belfast on Tuesday, said: “Sinn Féin opposed this cut since it was announced as it was an attack on children and families from deprived communities.

“We demanded that the Education Authority reverse this cut so I am delighted that it has now done so. The school uniform grant is a vital resource for many families and makes a real impact on the lives of thousands of children.”