‘Little treats like a yoghurt... that all has to stop’

Mother of three says back to school allowance covers less than a quarter of her costs

Sarah Conway,  with her three daughters,  says there has been a ‘huge drop’ in the back to school allowance

Sarah Conway, with her three daughters, says there has been a ‘huge drop’ in the back to school allowance


On Friday nights at this time of year, Sarah Conway dreads the doorbell ringing. It will be the “loan man”. Over the coming weeks she will repeatedly tell him that she simply doesn’t have any money.

The single mother of three girls, aged 12, four and three, had to find €1,250 to get her eldest pair kitted out for school: uniforms, shoes, tracksuits, runners, stationery, books, schoolbags and a winter coat each.

After a few years of unemployment, she started working in May as a cleaner. It means a “little bit extra” money but not much. Although still eligible for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, it covers less than a quarter of her costs.

From now until Christmas “it is just pure stress”, says the 30-year-old Dubliner.

“Food shopping is completely stripped back – it is basic dinners every day. No treats, no extras. The ESB, stuff like that which you can pay weekly at the post office – instead of paying off €40 euro, you pay off €5 or €10. You have to pay something,” she says.

“Then bringing the children out at the weekend, little treats like a yogurt, maybe a movie night with some popcorn, that all has to stop. There is nothing in the sweet press.

“The kids ask their Mam ‘why can’t we have this?’ You have to explain to them.”

‘Huge drop’

She has watched the back to school allowance nosedive over the past seven years while her cost of living continues to climb.

“There has been a huge drop. This is the first year I’m working and even though I have the allowance I still can’t pay my bills,” she says.

“From August to December, it’s school, it’s holidays and then ‘bam’, it’s Christmas. That’s when everyone gets into debt. The easy option is the loan men. It’s not good.

“But you do whatever you have to do to make sure there is something on the table for the children. Many times I have to tell my loan man ‘listen, I just don’t have it this week’. I can’t wait to get out of the debt, I don’t ever want to have to get a loan again to buy food for my kids.”

Sarah doesn’t drink, smoke or even have a night out anymore.

“I have holes in my leggings most times, it is rarely I get new clothes. I don’t shop for myself,” she says.

“The only thing that keeps you going is that all your friends are going through the same thing. We help each other through. Some days friends come to me for dinner, if it is the day before payday and they have nothing. I’ve been in that position as well. ”