Belfast mother fears she will have to borrow money from UDA to buy uniforms

A mother in Belfast says she fears having to borrow money from paramilitaries in order to buy school uniforms for her children.

Joanne McMurray, whose children are returning to elementary and secondary school in the coming days, says the grant for free school meals and the uniform she needs to get uniforms for her children will not be paid until September, leaving her unable to afford them.

A full-time caregiver for her disabled partner, she applied for the grant in June and said she was told she would receive the money in July, so she could get uniforms before the new term.

However, that payment date was then delayed until August and now she was told it would be September before she was paid.

Speaking to Belfast Live, Joanne said there were thousands of other vulnerable parents across Northern Ireland in the same position, facing tough decisions about how they can afford the clothes of their children for school.

She said: “I am on Income Support because I am looking after my husband full time and we are waiting for this grant to ensure that we can get uniforms for our children for the coming year.

“It can cost us hundreds of pounds per child and that’s money we don’t have after all of our bills and expenses are paid.

“We were told that the scholarship would be paid in July, then in August, then on Thursday morning, we were told it would be in September. The day before, our youngest had to go back to primary school.

“It has put us in a horrible situation where we are going to have to go to the paramilitaries to borrow money just to go to school. Seriously injured.

“But even still, it’s a better option than taking out a payday loan which could cripple us financially.

“It happens every year with parents across Northern Ireland due to the huge costs of uniforms and we shouldn’t have to go into serious debt to send our children to school.”

The Education Authority said more than 100,000 children benefited from free school meals and uniform grants in the 2020/21 school year and that some minor issues within the new online system delayed some requests.

A spokesperson for the Education Authority said: “The Education Authority has introduced a new online application system for free school meals and uniform grants for the 2021/22 school year to allow applicants to apply for more Quickly and safely.

“This has resulted in a more streamlined processing system where claimants receiving benefits no longer have to contact their local office to confirm their entitlement and claimants with universal credit or tax credits can upload their documentation with their online requests.

“More than 100,000 children received free school meals and uniform grants in the 2020/21 school year.

“To date, over 64,000 children have been treated as eligible for free school meals and uniform grants for the 2021/22 school year and over 14,000 applicants have been notified that they are not. eligible or have been asked to submit the correct documentation to support their claims.

“As with any new system, there are some minor issues that we are working to resolve and a small number of requests have taken longer to process than expected.

“The staff are working hard to process as many back-to-school requests as possible and we appreciate the parents’ understanding at this time.

“We have a dedicated help desk for requests for free school meals and uniform grants.

“The helpdesk can be contacted by phone, Monday to Friday 9 am-4:30pm, 028 9041 8044. Or by e-mail at: [email protected]”

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