WIGAN families are paying a staggering £31m a year to meet the most basic costs of their children’s schooling.
And a shocking 22,853 parents are struggling to keep up with these costs – leading to many children missing out on key opportunities to make the most of their education, and facing bullying and embarrassment.
A report, compiled by Children’s Commission on Poverty, shows that parents in the borough are forking out, on average, almost £800 per child each year for school clothing, sports kits, school meals, trips, books, materials for classes, stationery, computers for homework, travel to and from school and summer clubs or activities.
The Commissioners, aged 10 to 19, discovered that more than half of the poorest families say they have had to borrow money to pay for essential school items.
Children are also struggling with the cost of the increased requirement to use computers.
Nearly two-thirds of children living in the country’s poorest families say they are embarrassed as a result of not being able to afford key aspects of school and more than a quarter said this has led them to being bullied.
Young commissioners are calling on the government to make sure that all children living in poverty get a free school meal and that school uniforms are made affordable. The government’s guidance also needs to be strengthened to make sure voluntary school costs really are optional.
Rob Jackson, area director for The Children’s Society in Greater Manchester, said: “Children are supposed to be benefiting equally from a free education. Yet the reality is that families in Wigan are paying millions of pounds each year towards the cost of school. Children are being penalised and denied their right to an equal education simply because their parents cannot afford the basics. This is just not right.
“The government needs to listen to this report by young commissioners and act to make sure no child is stopped from getting an education equal to their peers. It must stop Wigan children from being made to suffer because they are living in poverty.”
Launched in October 2013, the Commission allows children to join forces and examine first-hand the stark realities facing thousands of families living below the poverty line.
Supported by The Children’s Society, it is leading an 18-month investigation into child poverty in the UK.