Children are having to go to school and nursery wearing just slippers or wellington boots due to increasing levels of shoe poverty.
Despite the freezing weather and deep snow last week, some young ones were forced to walk in canvas shoes, the head of a large nursery chain in London said.
Sal’s Shoes, a charity launched to send previously worn shoes to parts of the developing world, is spending more and more time making sure British children are booted.
During lockdown it has seen demand soar and has provided 20,000 shoes to kids in the UK since the pandemic began.
The revelation comes with Boris Johnson poised to announce the “roadmap” for lifting the lockdown in England today, as the vaccine rollout gathers pace.
Last week the Surrey charity sent a consignment of winter boots and wellies to London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), which runs 39 nurseries across London.
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“They had kids coming to school in canvas shoes which stay wet all day from the snow,” CJ Bowry, who founded Sal’s Shoes, told The Mirror.
“They contacted us knowing the parents in their community couldn’t afford to buy shoes.
“We started supporting them in September last year when kids were being sent to school in their slippers.”
For CJ, who says Sal’s Shoes are sent to all parts of the UK fairly evenly, lack of proper footwear is an indicator of how much low income families are struggling.
“It shows the level of poverty for low income families in this country”, she continued.
“Shoes used to be affordable. If it comes to a choice of paying utilities and feeding your family, shoes and clothing are coming further down the pecking order.”
June O’Sullivan, CEO of LEYF, knew school uniform poverty was going to be among a raft of issues aggravated by the first lockdown.
“Some hadn’t left their houses in five weeks,” she said of children from low income families who attend her nurseries.
“They were hungry. They hadn’t had a hugely healthy diet in a while.
“Quietly, parents would say to us they were worried about kids not having a school uniform or only having their winter shoes.
“We realised these children didn’t have proper shoes.
“I was shocked and saddened in September 2020 after lockdown one, to see some of our pupils returning in slippers and wellies because their families couldn’t afford shoes for school.”
She added: “Children are the litmus test of what is going right and what’s going wrong.
“Poverty has been aggravated by Covid, and you see this first with children.
“Whether tooth decay, obesity. It’s the same with shoes.”
For both June and CJ, an important part of making sure children have the right shoes is ensuring their sense of dignity is kept intact.
Sal’s Shoes launched its School Shoes Fund in the summer ahead of the September start date.
The idea is to raise money to help families buy shoes before children go into school in the wrong uniform, which might be embarrassing for them.
The scheme is continuing ahead of schools returning during the third lockdown.
“We have already been sending out shoes to schools knowing the families won’t be able to afford the shoes,” CJ said.
“It will be retaining their dignity.
“We are asking people to donate money so we can donate new school shoes.
“It gives them an extra spring in their step. Having new shoes at the beginning of the school year is a rite of passage.”
Those feeling inspired to help the charity can either donate money or shoes.
CJ said: “We literally collect every single type that we can think of – ballet shoes, football boots, shoes in all sizes so long as the footwear is child appropriate and practical. “
“If we have a surplus of larger sizes they often go to homeless shelters and now to domestic violence refuges.”
-- to www.mirror.co.uk