The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) fielded almost 300 calls every day last week from parents struggling with rising back-to-school costs for their children.
Many of the calls received by the charity related to requests for financial help with parental contributions, schoolbooks, digital equipment and school uniforms.
The charity was particularly concerned about the number of calls received from worried parents in relation to the cost of iPads and tablets, many of which range between €600 and €800 and were “impossible for struggling families to afford,” it said.
Calls for help with school costs were up 10 per cent overall compared to previous years and the level of demand “underlined the need for much greater investment in the education system to ensure that all children and young people can access and participate in education on an equal footing,” the charity said.
Rose McGowan, SVP national president, said that while the reopening of schools next week meant children could look forward to meeting up with friends and “resuming some normality after a tough 18 months”, school could also be “a daily struggle for students from low-income families, especially if they don’t have everything they need to learn or if they feel different from their peers.”
“For struggling parents, the preparation for the new school year is a huge source of stress, in particular, the anxiety associated with the prospect of requests for contributions or other expenses for extracurricular activities,” she said.
"The inequalities that existed before the pandemic in the education system remain and, in many cases, have worsened. Returning to normal should not be what we aspire to for children and young people – they deserve so much better," Marcella Stakem, SVP research and policy officer said.
An inclusive education system that was “genuinely free for everyone” was necessary and schools should be “extra cognisant” of the needs of low-income families this year, when many parents are out of work and on inadequate or reduced incomes, she said.
In this year’s pre-budget submission, SVP would ask the Government to prioritise investment in measures to address educational disadvantage and rising school costs.
“Budget 2022 must lay the foundations for everyone to reach their potential and it must leave our education system in a better place than the way we found it before Covid-19,” Ms Stakem said.