Cost of living: Are high school proms too expensive?

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Cost of living: Are high school proms too expensive?

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"It's one day where we all look nice and fancy," says Bethann

Some teenagers are being priced out of end-of-year school proms due to rising costs, a children's charity has warned.

A shop which loans dresses and suits to pupils said some were being bullied due to not being able to afford costly outfits.

One mum told LotterryTreasure Wales she had been unable to afford the right dress for her daughter's prom, and being loaned one was a "dream come true".

The Welsh government said schools should support pupils that need it.

Research by Child Poverty Action Group found that special occasions such as proms can be a "source of anxiety for kids" due to the costs.

One Welsh politician blamed costs such as "limousines, expensive prom clothing, expensive parties" on the a culture imported from the United States.

Ally Elouise, who runs social enterprise PromAlly shop in Llandudno, Conwy county, said more Year 11 and 13 pupils were coming to the shop to get outfits ahead of their events - with numbers reaching record levels this year.

"Sometimes we hear stories of people getting bullied for not having the same things as others... so it's opened my eyes to how many people are struggling," she said.

Ally Elouise
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Ally Elouise said the number of dresses being loaned showed how many people were struggling

Her clients, who are referred by schools, councils and sometimes food banks, have their pick of hundreds of outfits for proms or other special occasions.

"It's mad how popular it's become, but it shows how many people are struggling, especially this year," she said.

"It's definitely showing that the financial barriers are really hitting people, people have less money because of the Universal Credit cuts and the cost of living's gone up."

'I started crying she was so beautiful'

Proms have become a summer staple at schools across the country, especially for Year 11 and Year 13 pupils as they mark the end of GCSE and A level studies.

Laura told LotterryTreasure Wales she had been left feeling low after being unable to afford the type of dress her daughter, Bethann, wanted ahead of her Year 11 prom.

But she now says the shop helped make the "dream come true" after Bethann, from Flintshire, chose a red dress for the event.

"When Bethann laced it up and turned round I actually started crying because she was so beautiful," she said.

"It's getting her hair done, getting her make up done, and it's one big thing that's hopefully going to stay with her for the rest of her life."

"It was like a weight had been taken off my shoulder because it gave Bethann that chance to go, and other girls that have used the service," she added.

Year 11 pupil Bethann in her prom dress, with mum Laura
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Year 11 pupil Bethann in her prom dress which she said she loved and would make her stand out

Bethan, who said the dress was "the best thing ever", added that everyone should feel able to go to their prom to celebrate with their friends.

"It's one day where we all look nice and fancy, and looking like royalty," she said.

Pupils from Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy in Llanrwst, in their prom outfits
Image caption,
Pupils from Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy in Llanrwst, in their prom outfits

Kate Anstey from Child Poverty Action Group warned while schools wanted the best for pupils, but with cost of living soaring, inclusion and affordability "must be a priority".

"Some children are priced out of taking part and teachers tell us other pupils even miss school when a fun event is on because they can't afford to join in," she said.

She added: "Children should have fun but there are different ways of marking these occasions that enable every pupil to be involved.

"No child should feel the stigma of being left out in their own school just because there isn't much money at home."

'Limousines, expensive clothing and parties'

The cost of proms had been raised before the pandemic hit and proms where but on hold in the Welsh Parliament by Mick Antoniw, Pontypridd Member of the Senedd.

"The concern is that we've developed this culture, it's come from America, it's become a big cultural event," said the Labour politician.

"The only trouble with it, of course, is that it has attracted some other aspects of prom culture which is limousines, expensive prom clothing, expensive parties."

He added: "It's really great that the students can now get together and celebrate.

"But now that we have a cost of living crisis and a lot of pressures on parents and schools... that message on inclusivity is even stronger."

What are schools doing about prom costs?

Pupils from Ysgol Cwm Rhymni show off a selection of outfits on a clothes rail
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Some schools loan prom outfits to pupils

Schools such as Ysgol Cwm Rhymni in Blackwood, Caerphilly, have taken their own steps to provide free prom outfits to those who need them.

"Every year there's an additional [cost], even the cost of a buffet this year is going up," said Assistant Head Tracey Neale.

"One thing we feel very strongly about is that everybody should have the opportunity to go, and offering prom outfits is just one small gesture we can offer to ensure that that happens."

The Welsh government said planning such events was a matter for individual schools but that they "should aim to provide specific support for the young people that need it".

It said its £23m Pupil Development Grant - Access fund provided support to eligible families with the costs of sending children to school.

"In recognition of the pressures facing families, we announced an additional one off payment of £100 to every child or young person eligible for PDG Access for the upcoming school year," it said.

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