‘Cost of living crisis': Help needed to pay for school uniforms

Do not be afraid to ask for assistance

Friday, 22nd July — By Dan Carrier

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A CHARITY is helping parents at a Camden school with grants to pay for uniforms as more families slip into poverty amid rising costs and falling incomes.

The New Journal has agreed not to name the primary due to fears that parents feel stigmatised by the struggle to meet costs, but the St Pancras Welfare Trust says it has seen the biggest demand for help in its 300-year history.

It provides one-off grants to people in financial difficulty and has donated to the school so it can pass on assistance to parents and carers faced with a big bill for new school clothes as they make the next step to secondaries.

The headteacher of the school that received the grants said persuading families in need to accept support was not always straightforward – part of the reason we are not naming it – but they were looking at ways to help each child.

“Grants like this can help struggling families stay afloat, and make sure their children are ready to learn,” they said. “Having a good uniform and it not being a worry means they can be confident in their new school from day one.”

As the New Journal has reported several times this year, a large percentage of residents are facing hardship from soaring inflation ­ and shrinking pay rises. Although it is pack-aged as the “cost of living crisis”, those close to efforts to support people fear it is not a temporary problem, as the word crisis might suggest.

The school we are writing about this week offers every pupil a free meal at the start of the day in conjunction with charity Magic Break­fast and when the bell rings at the end of each day parents can collect bags of groceries to help pad out an evening meal.

It is an example of an amazing community spirit, but a heartbreaking illustration of how common it is for people in Camden to be sinking below the breadline despite often being in paid work.

The head said: “Many of our families have a father who works as an Uber driver or in catering – two trades that were badly hit during the pandemic. They work in restaurants that were forced to close. It has really hit us.”

They added: “Even if they are back in work now, there is a lot of catching up for people to do.” There are fears that without this daily support at the school, families now face a desperate six-week summer holiday as they try to budget for household essentials with children at home.

Eleanor Sturdy, the secretary of the St Pancras Welfare Trust, said: “The Trust has been inundated with requests during the past year. We aim to respond but we have to scale back the amounts to manage the demand. Many single adults are in need when they obtain housing that has no furniture, while families often need help to buy a bed for their children.”

She added: “We have also helped many who are staying in homeless hostels and suffer from acute loneliness and depression. In 2022 so far, we have made 129 grants totalling £35,785 and this is the busiest we have ever been.”

The Town Hall has vowed to provide extra help over the summer. This includes £45 worth of food vouchers for children aged up to 18 who get council tax rebates or housing benefit. They are also hosting free clubs to fill long hot days. Camden Citizens Advice, whose volunteers offer free help to people who are struggling financially, are now recruiting to cope with soaring demands.

Chief executive Judy Whalley said: “The demand is incredible. We are in unprecedented times. We are seeing more complex enquiries. That has been the case throughout the Covid crisis, with the addition of the increased costs of living. We are seeing people reeling and it is not over by a long way.”

She added: “There is a squeeze on budgets and there is nothing left to keep up with the increase in costs for essential items like gas, electricity and food. Many are running their household budgets at a deficit each month. Outgoings simply exceed the income. We know how hard this makes life. We know of the stress and worry it causes. People are having to make extremely difficult choices.”

Citizens Advice’s 50 active volunteers, managed from its headquarters on the Regent’s Park estate, offer advice, information and advocacy. They can also help with emergency food vouchers to re-stock bare cupboards and empty fridges, a service becoming more frequently requested.

Ms Whalley said: “What is clear is not all price increases have yet to work through to everybody’s bills. 30 per cent of those on fixed price tariffs for gas and electricity have not seen them come through. They will be just in time when people put on the heating, and nights grow darker so they need to turn on the lights.”

Sonia Berachi

In Somers Town, the Crick Institute’s Living Centre runs numerous outreach schemes to tackle poverty.

Sonia Berachi is in charge of a BME women’s health and wellbeing service there and said: “Many women who attend our sessions have spoken about how shopping has become more expensive and it is getting harder and harder to get by. They are very scared. People are worried about what is coming. We have noticed how people are struggling, always thinking and feeling stressed about it.”

The Living Centre offer services and help to offset falling incomes and rising costs. It includes advice, food banks and clothing. Help to plan a weekly budget to make food last is another facet.

Cllr Marcus Boyland

She said: “We discuss how we can feed a big family with a little bit of shopping. We look at a small budget and work out what ingredients we can use and what recipes there are to make food go further. We share skills about how to create healthy, low-cost meals. We had one older woman come in and say to us she had not eaten any meat for months and months as it was simply too much for her to afford.

“We hear this type of thing regularly. We see the extent of how much people are struggling to get by.” The Town Hall have set up a £2m fund that will help with one-off £500 payments to help with rising costs or one-off big ticket spends on essential household goods.

Camden’s schools chief Councillor Marcus Boyland said “With almost a third of pupils in the borough entitled to free school meals, we must do everything we can to support them over the coming summer holidays. We also recognise that there are many children in Camden that need help but are not receiving free schools meals, so we’re going further and will provide supermarket vouchers worth £45 per child to over 16,000 children who receive free school meals, housing benefit and council tax support. We’re also providing a range of free and subsidised activities for children this summer.”

He added: “No child will go hungry this summer, and we will make sure that every family who needs our support will get it.”

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