Back-to-school allowance hike still leaves €1,000 gap for low-income families, charity says

Rate of back-to-school allowance will be increased by €100 under plans announced by Government

An organisation that represents one-parent families has welcomed the increase in the back-to-school allowance, but said there was still a gap of €1,000 for families reliant on social welfare or on a low-income.

Karen Kiernan, the chief executive of OneFamily, told Newstalk Breakfast the increase was unlikely to make a big difference.

“It’s a great start – it’s certainly not enough when you look at the figures in terms of what parents are paying every year. There’s still a gap of nearly €1,000,” Ms Kiernan said.

“For somebody who’s very reliant on social welfare, or on a low-income, and they’re getting the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance, the extra €100 is welcome.

“But they’ve still got a massive gap between what they get from Government and what the actual cost of returning to school is.”

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.

Ms Kiernan said that people were “really, really worried” as they were being squeezed with cost of living increases, energy bills, child-minding and higher food prices. OneFamily knew from its helpline that back to school costs were a “massive issue” for parents. While the increase and any measures of support were welcome, longer term initiatives were needed, she said. Long term measures that were required included free school meals, free school books, affordable and washable uniforms.

“We literally are working with people who are trying to decide ‘Do I pay the top-up on my rent, or do I leave my electricity bill go, or how much can I afford to eat?’ People are making terribly difficult choices – and what we’re seeing is children’s lives are really restricted as a result of this,” Ms Kiernan said.

Earlier on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, Paul Bailey of the Irish League of Credit Unions said that its annual survey had indicated that 29 per cent of parents were getting into debt with back to school costs – up 5 per cent on last year.

Mr Bailey said it was alarming to see that the number of parents using credit cards to pay back-to-school costs had risen 6 per cent to 23 per cent this year with one-in-ten parents saying they were considering using an illegal or unregulated moneylender.

The annual survey showed that the average back-to-school cost for parents preparing children for secondary school was €1,518 per child and parents preparing children for primary school were spending €1,195 per child. Both figures are up on last year.

Minister for Education Norma Foley, also speaking on Morning Ireland, said that families would be better off as a result of the measures announced on Tuesday, but that these increases were just part of a suite of measures.

This was a process, not the end result, she said. There would be further measures in the budget. It was not possible to do everything “in one fell swoop”. Ms Foley said Budget 2023 would be a cost of living budget, it was a cumulative process which required flexibility to react as situations arose.