A lack of council support for buying school uniforms has come under the spotlight as the cost-of-living crisis bites.

Havering Council has not offered financial aid to parents in the borough sourcing new school uniforms for several years.

While not all London boroughs offer support, some - including Haringey and Tower Hamlets - do provide grants to help parents.

Instead, a Havering Council spokesperson said individual schools are responsible for their own policies and parents should approach them if they are struggling.

They also said there are many schemes to help parents access cheaper second-hand uniforms.

Penelope Jones, 39, and Darrall, who did not want to give his surname, 32, have five children aged five to 18 between them.

The Romford pair said against the backdrop of rising costs, they looked to see if the local authority was able to provide a grant to help them buy new school uniforms, knowing the same was offered elsewhere.

However, after finding out no support was available, they were forced into a difficult financial position.

Darrall said: “With the cost-of-living crisis and the energy crisis and everything else going up, it basically became us scrimping and saving so we could make sure we could feed the kids for the week.”

They said this came at an especially difficult time, with money they had been receiving because one of Penelope’s children has autism had been cut when he turned 18.

Darrall said he went down “every avenue” to get help, including speaking to the children’s school, but still struggled to find support.

He said his son had to go back to school in last year’s blazer and that the family had to cut back on food to make ends meet.

“Nobody cares if last week we were having to eat pasta for three days just to get through the week,” said Darrall.

The Havering Council spokesperson said there are many schemes in the borough through which parents can access second-hand uniforms at cheaper prices, or occasionally free of charge for families experiencing hardship.

“Schools are responsible for enforcing their uniform rules but we would expect them to deal with any issues in a fair way,” they said.

The national view

Issues with affording school uniforms, with or without support, is certainly not something experienced by Havering parents alone.

Research by The Children’s Society suggested 1.8million children across England are wearing ill-fitting, unclean and incorrect uniforms to school because their families do not have the money for new ones.

Romford Recorder: Joseph Howes, chief executive of the charity Buttle UK, said buying a school uniform is increasingly becoming an 'extra stress for those on the lowest incomes'Joseph Howes, chief executive of the charity Buttle UK, said buying a school uniform is increasingly becoming an 'extra stress for those on the lowest incomes' (Image: Buttle UK)

Additionally, research recently commissioned as part of Buttle UK’s partnership with George at Asda indicated 40 per cent of UK parents are having to send their children to school in old or worn uniforms, and 53pc said that was because they could not afford new ones.

Joseph Howes, chief executive of Buttle UK, a charity which helps children and young people in financial hardship, said: “The cost-of-living crisis is impacting us all, but buying school uniform – something that should be a great equaliser for children – is creating extra stress for those on the lowest incomes.

“There is a postcode lottery currently in terms of what support is available with these costs locally. If families find themselves in an area without such help, they should first speak to their school about what provisions can be made through their uniform policy.”

Word on the street

Tami Arias

Romford Recorder: Tami AriasTami Arias (Image: Ben Lynch)

One of those in favour of more council support for parents buying school uniforms is Tami Arias.

She noted it "would be nice for families on low incomes” in particular: “It would be good for parents to have a hand."

However, she does not think the support should stop there, and other areas would also benefit from further help.

In particular, she mentions childcare support as something which should be considered.

Sorina Noje and Nick Phipps

Romford Recorder: Sorina Noje and Nick PhippsSorina Noje and Nick Phipps (Image: Ben Lynch)

Sorina Noje and Nick Phipps, who were out with their young child in Romford, agreed further support on school uniforms would be welcomed.

Branding uniforms “expensive”, Sorina also nodded to the price rises across the board.

Nick said there is particular urgency amid the cost-of-living crisis, saying “they need to help more now”.

Alicia Neal

Romford Recorder: Alicia NealAlicia Neal (Image: Ben Lynch)

While acknowledging that support for parents to buy new school uniforms would undoubtedly be useful, Alicia said childcare should be given greater priority.

“They could help mums that want to work full-time, and childcare is expensive,” she said.

More support is necessary “if they expect mums to go back to full-time working”, Alicia said, something she has experienced with her young child.