Monday, 21 July 2014

From School Uniforms to Childcare; from Days Out to Food; the Working Poor hell of the 6 week School Summer Holiday.

That time of year has rolled around again; the 6 week school summer holiday. While the rich jet off abroad the poor and working poor will suffer like never before on a variety of fronts.

 When I was young, growing up in the 70s it was simple. Dad worked full time and Mum worked 2 evenings a week part time. While we were never well off, Mum handled the school summer holidays childcare wise for myself and my sisters on her own, with Dad's help on the 2 evenings she worked. Days were filled with bike rides, little picnics to the local park, trips to fetes or building dens in the garden. This then culminated in the 1 week caravan holiday to either Cornwall, Wales or Great Yarmouth which was looked forward to every year with great excitement. A working class school summer holiday that ended in the last days of August, when Mum marched us off to town for the school uniform buying. I never heard her complain once about the cost of kitting us out, even though a couple of items had to be bought at the school shop.

Fast forward to recent years when I have had all four of my sons straddling High School to Primary. I used to start buying my school uniforms for the September start at Easter! School logoed blazers and jumpers are the curse of the working poor parent! Every year successive governments have applied pressure to schools encouraging them to have a generic uniform with no school logos. I know of none where this is the case. Those navy jumpers all over supermarket adverts are useless when your school charges double or triple the price because the school badge has to be emablazoned on it. There were many years when I simply did not have the money to buy 'quality' school uniform items from M+S and the like and had to buy cheaper uniform. This frankly was so poor quality it barely got to October half term without having to be replaced, and thus defeated the object of being 'cheap'. Since Cameron came to power you can then add on certain GCSE textbooks as schools do not have enough to round. To kit 4 boys out in the whole uniform plus blazers,coats, shoes, football/gym shoes, PE kit and stationery would always come in at around the £800 mark. A huge sum to find in the school holidays and one I dreaded every year! Currently I have 2 sons left at High school and have become wiser, buying mens trousers, shoes etc in the stores summer sales.

I should be thankful I have not had to find 6 weeks school holiday childcare. That is only because my youngest son is autistic and I exist on the £61.35pw carers allowance.  For those who have no option, the juggling required and sheer cost is immense. I have a friend who is in this position. She and her partner have 3 children. One is 14 at High School and the other two are 5 and 8 in primary school. There are no grandparents living nearby. She takes the first week off school to stay home, her partner takes the second week off. Then she relies on her 14 year old to fill in the gap for the 3rd week which she feels guilty over, but has no choice. She then pays for two weeks childcare for the 5 and 8 year old full time and then  the whole family has a final week together in a caravan holiday in the UK. She would love a holiday abroad but school under Michael Gove have made it clear this is not allowed in term time, and she can't afford to go abroad in August as the cost doubles. Her school uniform costs are around the £500 mark. She is in favour of a shorter 3 week school summer holiday with the option to remove children for a holiday for up to 10 days a year excluding exam times. She feels this is fairer and far more do-able for working families.

For those families totally unable to afford a holiday, days out are no longer a cheap option. Once the 'free' days of a trip to the park, wandering around town with a visit to a cafe perhaps, bike riding etc are done children are often moaning about wanting a proper day out like their peers at school. For a family of 4, once petrol/train fares have been taken into consideration, entrance fees paid to a theme park or other attraction, a mid day lunch bought there is no change out of a few hundred pounds. While Cameron and his Cabinet jet off abroad, the working poor are wondering if their employer will give them full hours next week on their zero hour contract. Full hours of 35+ may give scope for a day out, but of course this is not assured! Rents and mortgages and other bills still have to be found in August. If ever there was a 'payment free holiday month' August would be top of my list!

Feeding your children for 6 weeks should not be a problem but in 2014 foodbanks are bracing themselves for unprecedented summer holiday demand. When poor children are in school, they at
least get 1 meal a day. In the summer holidays this is not the case. Couple this with bored children whose parents can't afford days out or a holiday and this results in 6 weeks of food hell. The older they are the worse it gets as tempers flare.

In my own household I plan carefully the main meals for the summer holidays week by week, but find I am buying a lot more bread, ham and salad for sandwiches, cereal and milk, bottles of squash etc as the 'fridge raiding' is far more frequent than in term time. My food bill soars and I always welcome September with relief on the food front. Families who get free school meals during term time are frequently unable to cope during the summer. Working Poor families who are not entitled to free school meals are already  sending their children to school with no lunch on some days of the month, as they simply have run out of money until payday. In 2013 a local foodbank reported a 40% surge in referrals during the school summer holidays. I witnessed 2 small children dancing around their kitchen delighted the foodbank had provided them with breakfast cereal for the week. Not treats, but cereal, a staple for the majority of families.

Huge pressure has been put on the backs of the working class by the ConDems. It is us and our children who are bearing the burden. Cleggs answer was to provide free school meals to all 5 and 6 year olds. He forgot many schools have no kitchens but was hell bent on ploughing on with his hare brained scheme! He never thought for one moment, that while the 5 year olds of the children of Cabinet members were enjoying a free school meal, impoverished working poor children aged 7 were going without a lunch as mums whispered 'Tell the teacher you're not hungry just for today' as she wracked her brains trying to figure out how she would pay for lunches for the rest of the week! That's real life Clegg; that is what is happening in your 2014 Britain!

Yet still the politicians wring their hands and do nothing. Gove has gone but he has been replaced by privately educated Nicky Morgan whose philosophy has so far constituted that 'University Education is not a right'. No change there then! Successive governments have talked the talk over the school summer holiday then done absoloutely nothing. Gove just decided to punish parents for taking
children out of school in term time. This has annoyed the middle class particularly, but Nicly Morgan is adamant government policy will remain unaltered: Punish parents who can't afford a peak summer holiday. No thought for the working poor.

It's time to support parents by any government that gets elected in 2015. More parents are having to work but childcare is unaffordable. Poor parents and parents of disabled children are unable to feed their kids over the 6 week summer holiday. Days out are luxuries. These are the lives of the working class in 2014 - lives far removed from Westminster where a couple of holidays, treats and days out are the norm for children of MPs during the summer! Walk a mile in our shoes during this summer and  try to change things to make our lives just a little easier. A time when feeding the kids, buying the  new terms uniforms and a 1 week holiday are once again within reach. After all haven't things progressed just a little bit since my 1970s childhood? To the poor it appears not.