A MOTHER of four children in North Wales has told how she and her husband regularly skip meals to help pay for their children’s school uniforms.

For weeks the family were unable to afford to put the heating on and wrapped up in dressing gowns and hot water bottles to keep warm.

In total, she estimates that she spent between £300-£400 on uniforms and basic school kit this year.

She said: “For weeks, we wouldn’t put the heating on. We run on oil where we are, and it’s £300 for half a tank. So we spent a lot of time walking around with hot water bottles and dressing gowns in the house, because we can’t afford to waste the heat. It was really, really cold.

“We did weeks where me and my husband had maybe two meals a week.

“The rest of the time we were living on toast, and bits that the kids had left. We learned to manage.

“My husband’s grandparents helped us.

“Obviously, they’re of pension age, so it’s got to be paid back as quickly as possible, because they can’t afford to lose that amount of money, either.

“It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

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Her comments come after a report released this week shone light on the school uniform cost burden faced by struggling families across the country.

The paper, part of the Covid Realities partnership project between the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), the Nuffield Foundation, and the universities of York and Birmingham, suggests parents are going without food and other essentials to buy uniform and kit for the school year.

Kim, 37, who lives on Anglesey with her husband and four children and did not want to be fully identified, took part in the study. Two of her children are in primary school, one is at comprehensive school, and the other goes to college.

She is disabled and can’t work, and her husband, who used to work in construction, lost his job last year.

Kim said: “Before Covid, we got by. My husband was working 40 hours a week, and we managed.

“Then obviously he lost his job, so we had to apply for universal credit, and that’s messed everything up.

“I didn’t have debt, I couldn’t do that. I don’t have credit cards. I was brought up on ‘if you can’t afford it, you save up for it’. So that’s what we’ve always done.”

The more than six-week wait for the family’s universal credit (UC) payment, she says, meant that their unpaid bills began to pile up.

“It was a lot of ringing round and begging for extra time,” she added.

A single pair of socks for her son’s secondary school PE kit, Kim says, cost her £7.

A cursory search of a recommended Anglesey school-wear supplier website shows that many school jumpers cost around £20 each, while a PE kit polo shirt might set you back £15.

Falling through gaps in support

On paper, at least, the Welsh Government offers the most generous support to parents for school kit of all the UK nations.

Families in Wales can apply for a ‘Pupil Development Grant’ (PDG) of £125 per child, or up to £200 for children in secondary school, to cover the cost of uniforms, kit and equipment.

But according to Dr Steffan Evans, policy and research officer at poverty thinktank the Bevan Foundation, the scheme’s eligibility requirements mean that many families are often left behind.

A Child Poverty Action Group analysis in October last year suggested that over half of impoverished children in Wales are not eligible for the scheme, usually because their parents are in low paid work that takes them above the income threshold.

Kim says her family fell through gaps in support, particularly as some of her children are not in school years covered by the pupil development grant.

Ellie Harwood, Wales development manager at Child Poverty Action Group, believes Westminster has its part to play in solving the issue. She said: “Although it’s often the cheapest option for families, school uniform costs are still a huge stretch for many parents and needlessly pile pressure on them with each new term.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We have taken a number of significant actions to support families with the cost of school uniforms.

“We have introduced PDG Access, a scheme worth up to £200 for families, to support them with the cost of school uniforms and sports kits. We have also introduced statutory guidance to ensure schools make every effort to keep the cost of school uniforms down for families.

“The education minister has committed to review the threshold criteria when new data becomes available, which will be a matter for the incoming government.”