More parents seeking help with school costs, says charity

SVP charity calls for free school books and the abolition of voluntary contribution

A recent survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions found that 78 per cent of parents were struggling with back-to-school costs this year, up from 68 per cent last year. Photograph: iStock

A recent survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions found that 78 per cent of parents were struggling with back-to-school costs this year, up from 68 per cent last year. Photograph: iStock

 

The number of calls to St Vincent de Paul (SVP) regarding the cost of going back to school has increased by almost 5 per cent this year, the charity has said.

Last week, it received between 250 and 300 calls per day from concerned parents who feared they would not be able to pay for books, uniforms and other school necessities.

Calling for action to alleviate the financial pressure on families, the charity said the number of families seeking help with school costs has increased for the third year in a row, with 6,250 calls received on the issue this summer.

However, the charity believes the true number of families struggling with school costs is much higher because some parents seek help to pay for other bills, after already prioritising back-to-school expenses.

A recent survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions found that 78 per cent of parents were struggling with back-to-school costs this year, up from 68 per cent last year.

Over a third fell into debt this year, and 24 per cent said they would go to moneylenders to find the funds for school supplies.

Alleviate pressure

In an effort to alleviate this pressure, SVP is calling on the Department of Education to make school books free across all primary and secondary schools, and to end the voluntary contribution system in all non-fee paying schools.

Marcella Stakem, SVP policy officer, said if these measures were implemented it would “significantly reduce the financial stress placed on parents”.

“The underinvestment in our education system at both primary and secondary level limits the potential of children and puts significant pressure on low-income families,” Ms Stakem said.

“It is imperative that long-term measures are taken now to ensure that the current and future cohorts of students can participate in school on an equal footing regardless of their parents’ economic status. Education is a powerful predictor of life chances in adulthood.”

She added: “If we really want all children and young people to have access to good opportunities, we have to stop making cost a barrier to participation.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Welfare Regina Doherty has urged any parents with school-going children, who have not yet applied for the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance, to check out their entitlement to the scheme as they may qualify for a payment, depending on their financial circumstances.

Eligible child

The allowance is a once-off payment of €150 for each eligible child aged between 4 and 11, or €275 for each eligible child aged between 12 and 22.

Eligible children must be in full-time education and the total household income must be below certain thresholds, depending on the family situation.

To date, more than 130,000 families have received the allowance payment in respect of 239,230 children since July, when this year’s scheme commenced.

Ms Doherty said this time of year can be “particularly stressful” for many families.

“The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance provides valuable support to eligible families to assist with the extra costs when children start school each autumn and this year we are providing for an additional €25 payment per child,” she said.

“I would urge anybody who has not yet applied to check their eligibility for the scheme, which provides a once-off payment to assist with the costs of school clothing and footwear.”