Jemima Skala
8 mins

With September on the horizon and six long weeks of summer holiday drawing to a close, parents up and down the UK are having to think about getting their kids back to school. It’s always a time of mixed emotions: stressing about whether you’ve got everything your child needs; anticipating the jump in learning your child is about to make; looking forward to snatching back some time for yourself during the day.

However, with energy caps increasing seemingly every hour, interest rates rising and a recession on the horizon for next year, it’s understandably difficult to feel excited about the back-to-school period. It’s also getting harder to swallow the associated expense when chirpy back-to-school advertising campaigns feel distinctly at odds with our general surroundings.

Barnardos Ireland’s annual Back To School survey found that 69% of primary school parents and 75% of secondary school parents are worried about back-to-school costs, with almost half of all parents reporting that the increases to the cost of living has made it much harder to actually meet these costs.

Of course, it’s a more galling twist of the knife for parents to keep up the excitement in front of their kids around this period. Parents are taking to social media platforms like TikTok to express their anxieties about the coming crunch–mums talk to camera detailing how they’ve had to have a quick cry after getting an energy bill, dry their eyes and put a smiling face on to pick up their child from school.

Government support lags behind

The government has made some perfunctory moves to ease the hit to families’ purses this September, but as predicted, they go nowhere near far enough. Though they’ve gifted all households with an automatic £400 grant starting this winter, there are concerns that it won’t go far enough, primarily from Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis, the unlikely champion for the underprivileged throughout the cost of living crisis.

In November last year the government also announced new legally binding guidance for school uniforms. Schools now need to provide secondhand options and ensure that their school uniforms have net-zero carbon emissions. A good start, admittedly, except VAT still applies to school uniforms labelled 14+. In a country where over 90% of schools require uniforms, it’s hardly a non-essential item. 

A new government School Uniform Grant has also been introduced where parents can claim up to £150 per child per year savings on school uniforms, but–surprise!–it’s only being offered in 27 of the 149 English councils. The government is also reluctant to make any big changes to budgets or introduce any new support measures until the leadership contest is over in September, which is cold comfort for families left needing more. Though seemingly a small thing, school uniforms help a child feel confident in their school, encouraging pride in their community and a sense of belonging; spending money on school uniforms may seem extraneous, but they symbolise a significant part of a child’s development and ability to build relationship networks.

Hope in communities

Where institutions are invariably failing the masses, it’s all the more heartening to see communities pulling together to help ease the anxiety of the back to school period.

A local community group in Lanarkshire is offering free haircuts to all children aged 5-18 at an event in August. It’s the little things, like haircuts or new pairs of socks, that slip in the face of a big daunting financial crunch, but it’s precisely these things that keep us feeling normal and human in the midst of everything.

Numerous restaurants around the UK registered their support for Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign last year, offering free or cut-price meals for school-age children up and down the country during school holidays. The same restaurants have rallied time and time again when they’ve needed to, and will surely continue to do so as things continue to get tighter. 

The Camden New Journal wrote of the support that one unnamed primary school was offering to parents to help ease the impending financial difficulty. They offer every student a free school meal at the start of the day with the charity Magic Breakfast, and the St Pancras Welfare Trust has also provided a large donation to help parents pay for uniforms. 

Where do we go from here?

It’s undoubtedly inspiring to see how communities are coming together to help each other in this very stressful time, particularly where schools and families are concerned. The reason they are having to do so is still a glaring indictment of how the UK government is handling these increasingly hostile living conditions. 

There’s no easy way to cut it–the future is bleak on Plague Island. Living here is going to feel bloody difficult for the foreseeable, and any help we can all pitch in is going to mean the world. It sounds cheesy and overdone, but there really is nothing like community and strength in numbers when it comes to this back to school period. Reach out like never before, share what you can and hopefully we can retain some semblance of normalcy for the kids, who deserve to be protected from the future they’re inheriting for just a little bit longer.

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