School uniform costs: Children 'asking Santa for basic items'

Image caption Volunteer-run uniform banks say they have seen an increase in the number of families seeking their services

Uniform banks, which offer families in need school clothing for free, are being "swamped with requests", according to those who run them.

With school children across Scotland due to return to the classroom over the next few weeks, BBC Scotland spoke to parents struggling with the cost of kitting out their kids and the volunteers trying to help them.

"Our bank was set up in response to reports that school children were asking Santa for basic school uniform items and underwear for Christmas - which is just shocking in this day and age," said Julia Grindley from the Edinburgh School Uniform Bank.

"So some folk decided to do something about that."

She, and other volunteers, collect donations of money and clothes and put together "Back to School" packs for children from families in need.

She said they had never been busier, and she had heard similar stories from other uniform banks.

"The number of requests for school uniforms have doubled this year, added Julie.

"And the year before that they actually doubled on the previous year, so the rise is absolutely dramatic and we're totally swamped with requests."

Image caption In Edinburgh, the city's uniform bank prepares back-to-school packages for children

Last year, the Scottish government announced the school clothing grant - which parents on low-incomes can claim towards the cost of uniforms - would be set at a minimum level of £100 in all local authorities, starting in time for the 2018-19 academic year.

In June this year, Communities Minister Aileen Campbell highlighted this increase as she updated the Scottish Parliament on the government's plans to reduce child poverty.

Some Scottish councils have reported a rise in the number of applications for these clothing grants.

Figures from City of Edinburgh Council showed a 32% increase in the number of school clothing grants awarded by the local authority.

Image caption Fay Gerrard said she relies on clothing grants because uniforms are "so expensive"

Single-mother-of-three Fay Gerrard said the grants were a necessity for her family.

"School uniforms are so expensive so I've got to use the clothing grants, and even at that, it takes some time to come through.

"I have been waiting and hoping and stressing thinking 'will it come through in time?'"

Image caption Leanne McFarlane said other schools costs, on top of uniforms, can really add up

Leanne McFarlane, who is also on her own with three children and is about to embark on a college course, said she finds fully equipping the children for school hard.

"Clothing and bags and stuff, I normally have to pay extra money out of my benefits and kids' tax credits to pay for the rest of their stuff," she said.

"There's school trips that need paid for, there's milk, there's school dinners, there's lots that kids need."

John Dickie of the Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, said there were other ways - as well as clothing grants and uniform banks - of helping make the school day less expensive for families.

Image caption Some schools offer supplies for children who don't have what they need

And he said some schools and local authorities were already making progress in this area.

"There are really good examples of schools reflecting and improving school uniform policy.

"So they're reducing the cost of the school uniform so that there's no additional costs for braided blazers, or single suppliers," he said.

"Some also have supplies of uniform and sports clothing and equipment, so that when children don't have it, it's ready and accessible in a non-stigmatising way."

'Never easy'

Single parent Lee Lampard - who is not working at the moment - said he would not have managed without extra help to pay for everything his three children need at school.

"Young Lee's just off to his P6 camp this year as well so the school helped out with lots of funding just to get the wee man off to his camp," he said.

"There's lots of days out for school as well that can all add up at the end of the year.

"It's hard to tighten up the wallet sometimes, but when you've got three kids you've got no choice than to make sure that you're getting by, and it's never going to be easy."

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