Back-to-school: ‘It’s a nightmare of debt followed by debt’

Barnardos calls on Government to remove significant financial strain on parents

 June Tinsley, Barnardos; Daisy O’Connor (6); Fergus Finlay, Barnardos chief executive and Patrick Regan (6). Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

June Tinsley, Barnardos; Daisy O’Connor (6); Fergus Finlay, Barnardos chief executive and Patrick Regan (6). Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

More than 2,000 parents took part in the annual back-to-school cost survey released by Barnardos on Wednesday and, from the feedback received by the charity, it is clear that many of them have been put to the pin of their collars to make ends meet.

“This year we have gone hungry, foregone all days out and have left bills unpaid to put our children back to school,” said one parent who responded to the survey.

“Schooling is very expensive in Ireland and with school fees, book costs and uniforms I worry for the future – free education is not the case. I am already worrying about how I will pay everything this year for my four children,” said another.

“We have to take out a loan for books and any extras that may be needed,” a third told the charity. “Books cost up to €300, then there may be other books required during term, it’s a bad system. The school have changed the uniform crest and we have to get everything new, even the Airtex [gym shirt] has the crest on. It’s a stress and when this finishes, Christmas sticks up its ugly head. It’s a nightmare of debt followed by debt.”

The Barnardos head of advocacy, June Tinsley, expressed frustration that the same stories were being told year after year.

Stress

“All parents, regardless of income, find the back-to-school period places a strain on their finances and causes significant stress,” she said. “This experience is magnified for families who are already struggling financially or have additional family challenges.”

She said that by “refusing to commit the relatively small amount of money required to fully fund the education system” the Government was placing families “under significant stress and are running the risk of leaving the most vulnerable children without the basics they need to learn”.

She pointed out that investing in education “not only benefits children, but offers huge rewards for the future of our society. It is time for the Government to fulfil their constitutional responsibility to provide truly free education. We’re calling on all politicians to make free education a political priority and end this fallacy once and for all”.

She told The Irish Times that parents were “incredibly frustrated and saying enough is enough” and she warned the Government that an election was “not very far away and it will be time for the electorate to make decisions on what they think the Government had done”.

She said the if political will was there, the problems which have long beset the Irish education system could be resolved.

“At the stroke of a pen they could increase the capitation fees which would remove the need for schools to look for voluntary contributions. And at the stroke of a pen they could introduce book rental schemes across the board. To say their hands are tied by boards of management is a smokescreen.”