How can we end clothing poverty for school children?
Redistribution of pre-owned uniforms not only reduces landfill, it can also help a growing number British families relying on clothing banks
In 2020, The Children’s Society found that British parents spend an average of £337 a year per child on state school uniforms, and that this rising expense is causing nearly a quarter of children to attend school in ill-fitting, unclean or incorrect uniforms. Such data is leading many to question how we can end clothing poverty for school children.
Most of us will be familiar with the concept of food banks, which are becoming an ever-more prevalent sight in our cities since the pandemic. In the year before Coronavirus hit, 2.5% of households in the UK used food banks; now, that figure is estimated to be at 10%. Clothing banks work in just the same way as food banks, by providing clothing to those who can’t afford it but find themselves in desperate need.
School uniforms are a particularly vital need, as studies have shown that children who are embarrassed by not having suitable school clothing are more likely to be truant or skip subjects like PE that require special kit. Unclean or ripped clothing can also lead to children being bullied at school. This makes access to items such as shirts, ties, blazers and sports kits important for children’s mental health, as well as ensuring that they get fair access to a full education.
Donating old uniforms to local clothing banks can help ensure that clothing your children have grown out of is put to good use, as many families in desperate need are referred to these banks by social services. Using this model, The Salvation Army in Cannock in the West Midlands managed to fully outfit 279 children, aged three to 16, last August through its Pre-Loved Uniform Market.
You can also donate new items to clothing banks, just as you would a tin of beans to a food bank. There are a number of charities working to end clothing poverty for school children in this way, including Manchester’s Wood Street Mission. Its SmartStart Appeal, which called for donations of new uniforms and cash donations, delivered uniforms, sports kits, stationery sets and dressing-up costumes (for events such as World Book Day) to 3,191 children in 2019.
Learning Through Landscapes is also calling attention to a lack of suitable outdoor clothing for the estimated 4.2 million school-age children who are living in poverty in the UK. Having the correct clothing for the season’s weather is so important, as not having it can prevent children from taking part in outdoor activities both during school hours and beyond. Last year, it raised more than £6,000 to buy waterproof jackets, trousers and wellies for schools and children in need, partnering with children’s clothing brand Muddy Puddles.
Children going without proper clothing is something we might be more likely to associate with developing countries, however it is a stark reality for a growing number of British children – more than 30% of who live below the poverty line. With the stigma around clothing negatively impacting children’s education, social lives and mental health, it makes it more important than ever to consider repurposing our pre-owned clothing or making donations, if we can, to clothing banks and charities. Through these small steps, we can work together to try to end clothing poverty for school children at what is a truly pivotal moment in their lives.