'Our door hasn’t stopped': Uniform hub helping hundreds of parents as cost of living takes hold

  • By Michelle Napier

Organisers of a west Belfast uniform hub say they’ve been inundated with requests for help with uniforms and also from people who want to donate items of uniform no longer needed.

The pre-loved uniform hub on the Andersonstown Road has been running for three years and is busier than ever as pressure from the cost of living crisis takes hold on families.

Paul Doherty from Foodstock said: “We have seen quite a lot of demand. Families are struggling because of the cost of living crisis and the cost of school uniforms has been an added pressure for many.

"Our door hasn’t stopped in terms of people coming to donate and pick up nursery, primary and secondary school uniforms."

Paul says he has noticed a big increase in requests for uniform from working parents.

He said: “Working families don’t know where to turn. They are coming to us and feel that this scheme isn’t something they should be availing of but it absolutely is.

"Everyone is struggling at the minute whether they’re working or not. Every family is struggling somewhere and when it comes to school uniform prices, every family is feeling the pinch.”

The Education Minister recently announced a 20 per cent increase in the uniform grant but campaigners have long called for more to be done, and say legislation on uniform prices is needed.

In England and Wales, there is enforceable legislation regarding issues such as competition between suppliers and schools being told not to insist on unusual colours or motifs on polo shirts meaning parents can source them from the high street. Naomi McBurney from the Parent Engagement group says: “The government needs to step in and make legislative change around the school uniform policies that we see coming out from Boards of Governors and school leaders.

"That’s something that’s not regulated at the moment. We need to see change dramatically. We only have guidance at the moment for Board of Governors."

She continued: “School uniforms need to be affordable and available from the High street. There needs to be competitive pricing for parents.“

“We are seeing significant introduction of more branded items which are exceptionally expensive, families simply can’t afford them. We need to see more flexibility so that young people can wear what suits their needs and affordability. “ In a statement, the Department of Education said it is considering the potential to legislate on uniform policy.

A spokesperson said: "The minister has made it clear to schools that every effort should be made to ensure uniforms are as affordable as possible, in line with the Department's guidance on this issue."