Column: school holiday challenges

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 2nd August:

As we move into August, the school holidays are in full swing.

It should be a really exciting time for children across Barnsley, with the endless possibilities and fun of the six week holidays stretching out ahead of them.

But sadly, for so many families across our area, this can be one of the most difficult periods of the year.

Because here in Barnsley, families are faced with the twin challenges of food poverty and buying school uniform.

School uniform is often far too expensive, an issue constituents frequently raise with me, including one who had to pay £200 for one uniform and PE kit.

A number of schools, particularly academies, state that uniform must include expensive logos or embroidery, and can only be bought from one particular supplier.

In 2015 the Government promised to change the law to prevent schools having such exclusivity arrangements with suppliers, but this change has not yet been brought forward.

These arrangements increase the cost, which is something I’ve raised with local schools and in Parliament.

And it’s why I’ve launched my Barnsley East School Uniform Exchange.

Boxes have been placed in five libraries and the Town Hall, as well as in my office in Hoyland, for parents to drop off unwanted uniform up to 16th
August.

This will then be distributed in the run up to the new school year.

I’ll continue to push for change so uniform is affordable, but in the meantime, I hope this is something practical which can help families across our area.

But sadly, far too many families are also affected by food poverty.

No child should go hungry, and I have long believed in and campaigned for the introduction of free school meals for all primary school children.

As a former teacher, I have seen first hand just how big a difference this can make to educational attainment and health.

But during school holidays, without that nutrition, some families can find it difficult.

That’s why I’m pleased that here in Barnsley, FareShare Yorkshire are working with Barnsley Council, community groups and other organisations on a campaign to provide food and activities for local school children throughout the holidays.

Campaigns like this are so important, because every child deserves to fulfil their aspirations.

But far too often under this Government, our children don’t get that opportunity.

Many grow up in poverty – nationally it is 1 in 5, in Yorkshire it is greater than 1 in 4.

Under this Government life has become so much harder for children growing up in Barnsley.

The children I meet in our community are bright, engaged, and talented.

They and their families invest so much time and effort in building their futures.

It’s time this Government invested in them, and ensured that no child grows up in poverty.