Back-to-school allowance to be increased by €100 in bid to help parents

Measures including major expansion of school meals programme will be worth €67m

The rate of the back-to-school allowance will be increased by €100 under new plans unveiled by Ministers on Tuesday evening.

There will also be a major expansion of the school meals programme and school transport fees will be waived for primary and secondary students.

The measures worth €67 million were announced by Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys, Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath.

The back-to-school allowance was increased in the last budget by €10 per child to €160 for primary school pupils and €285 for those in second level. The further increased allowance will be paid in August. The amount being paid for each qualified child aged 4–11 years will now be €260 and the rate payable for each eligible child aged 12 and over will be €385.

The Government also announced that school transport fees will be waived for those who have applied for a school transport ticket.

As it stands currently, there is a €500 maximum annual charge for some secondary students using the school transport scheme, or €150 for primary students.

Speaking about the €100 increase in children’s allowance, Minister Humphreys said it would benefit some 260,000 children. The back-to-school allowance is a means tested payment. Asked about middle income families who would not get access to such a payment, she said measures had to be targeted at those most in need.

Minister Humphreys also announced that 310 newly designated DEIS schools can avail of the school meals programme this year, benefitting an extra 60,000 children.

Minister McGrath said now was the time for the Government to provide additional assistance, rather than waiting for the budget in September.

“A lot of children have just finished in primary schools, book lists have been sent out and parents are in the process of trying to get school uniforms. It is not something that can wait until the end of September.”

The Coalition has been resisting bringing in additional measures to help with the cost of living before the budget, which has been brought forward by two weeks to September 27th.

However, it is coming under pressure from Opposition politicians and others to provide further supports to families ahead of the return to schools which starts at the end of August.

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said parents are facing the most expensive back to school period in “a generation” and that it “beggars belief” that people were being asked to wait 13 weeks until the budget to receive extra help.

She said parents were forking out a “small fortune” and that many would be forced into debt “simply to get their children back to school”.

Sinn Féin leader brought forward a motion on Tuesday night calling on the Government to extend the back to school allowance to middle income households and to increase the allowance by 50 per cent for low income families and those on fixed incomes.

Barnardos had also called on the Government to increase the allowance for low-income families. Suzanne Connolly, chief executive of the children’s charity, said staff were reporting that families were more concerned about back-to-school costs than ever.

She said parents were “stressed and are worried they might not be able to afford clothes and shoes their children require for school as they are forced to prioritise daily essentials like food, electricity and heat”.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times