THE PROPOSAL to cut £3m to the school uniform grant for low-income families has been reversed after representatives slammed the decision as ‘an attack on the working class’.
The Department of Education had instructed the Education Authority (EA) to reduce the cost of the scheme by £3m saying it was facing major financial pressures. An EA spokesperson confirmed that the Department of Education has written to the EA confirming that the uniform grants for 2017/18 should continue to be paid at the current rates.
“The relevant payments will now be issued as soon as possible,” they added.
The grant is a ‘vital resource’ for many families from deprived communities and makes a real impact on the lives of hundreds of children in West Belfast. The sum of help ranges from just over £35 for a primary school pupil to £56 for a post-primary pupil over the age of 15.
The Falls Women’s Centre, which was established 35-years-ago to improve the quality of life for women and their families living in areas of extreme deprivation and most affected by the conflict, welcomed the news.
A spokesperson told the Andersonstown News: “We recognise a lot of our clients are completely dependent on this financial support towards their children’s education. Whilst the decision has been overturned this year we would recommend that safeguards are put in place to protect this grant in the future.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education explained: “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.”
All Stormont departments are operating on a reduced budget due to the collapse of the power-sharing arrangements.
Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey said it was a ‘sensible decision’ by the Education Authority to reverse the cut, which will provide some reassurance to parents ahead of the new school year.
“Our delegations have consistently met with the Education Authority since the decision was announced and articulated that view, demanding that the EA reversed the cut. I'd like to commend the Sinn Féin reps involved in those delegations. Great work by all involved.
“Sinn Féin Minister Caitriona Ruane introduced the primary school uniform grant and her successor John O’Dowd extended the criteria allowing thousands more pupils to benefit.”
Welcoming the U-turn decision People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll, said: “This decision along with the reversal of some of the cuts to our youth clubs shows that by applying pressure, we can stop these cuts from being implemented. Unelected heads of civil servants know they have no mandate to implement austerity measures such as these. This should give everybody confidence that we can push back against the agenda of austerity and the curtailing of pubic services.
SDLP Cllr Tim Attwood agreed but added there now needs to be a U-turn on further cuts to the education sector. “The U-turn on uniform grant by DE will be welcomed by hard-pressed parents especially given a recent survey in the South reported that nearly one-in-four parents will deny their children some basic school items this year as they continue to struggle to cover the cost of returning to school next month.
“There now needs to be a U-turn on the 2.5% cuts in schools budget, the 14% extended schools cut and Sure Start cuts. Education is a right not a privilege.”