Welfare authorities receive 1,000 applications for back-to-school payments every weekday
Surge in applications puts Government under pressure to contain cost of allowance
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said the allowance is not meant to cover costs, but to give assistance. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Welfare authorities are receiving almost 1,000 applications every weekday for assistance with back-to-school costs.
The surge in the number of applications means that the Department of Social Protection will be under significant pressure to keep payments within its allocated budget this year.
The reduced economic circumstances of many families means even greater numbers may be entitled to the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.
The allowance, which is targeted at low-income families, was paid automatically to about 115,000 families in mid-July.
Since then a further 58,000 manual applications have been received, which is an average of more than 10,000 a week.
A spokeswoman for Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said this weekend that the number of claims had begun to stabilise recently and that 4,500 were received last week.
Applications for the allowance will be accepted until the end of next month.
The Department of Social Protection has set aside a budget of €49 million to meet demand for the allowance on the basis that there would be applications from about 190,000 families.
However, the number of applications for the payment indicates this number may well be exceeded.
In order to contain costs, the payment was reduced by up to a third in the last budget in addition to previous cuts and age-related restrictions.
The payment is now worth €150 for primary school children and €200 for secondary and third-level students.
A survey last month by Barnardos found that many parents are facing a crippling financial burden as they prepare to send their children back to school.
The cost of crested school clothing, footwear, books and classroom resources was €350 for a typical pupil in senior infants.
The figure rose to €400 for fourth class and €785 for first year, the survey shows.
Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay called on the Government to end the current “arm’s length” approach and intervene directly to help parents to cope with the rising costs of education.
Ms Burton has pointed out that the allowance is not intended to meet the full cost of school clothing and footwear, but only to give assistance towards these costs.
Speaking after the budget cuts were announced last year, she said there was good value to be found in shops for clothing and footwear, and added that the Minister for Education had called on school authorities to ban expensive school uniforms with crests.
Ruairí Quinn has since said that he cannot force schools to bring down the cost of uniforms and he pointed out that parents need to push schools to make it cheaper to prepare children for the classroom.
The back-to-school allowance has been subject to a series of cuts in recent years. The cost of the allowance rose to a record €90 million in 2011.
Since then the allowance has been discontinued for children who are aged two and three years old – on the basis they are not of school-going age – and the overall rate of payments has been reduced at least twice.