Sharp rise in parents seeking help for back-to-school costs

Charity says transition year costs have become significant source of stress

The Society of Saint Vincent De Paul (SVP) has said it has seeen a 20 per cent increase in calls for back-to-school help this summer.

The charity said it expects to receive more than 6,000 calls from parents by the end of August.

It suggested that delays in processing the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BSCFA) by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection had placed additional pressure on families with limited incomes.

"August is the busiest month for school costs in SVP and calls continue to come in this week from worried parents," SVP social policy officer Marcella Stakem said.


“ We know this time of year is stressful for most families as they try to meet the costs of uniforms, books and ‘voluntary’ contributions, and that these costs bear most heavily on families with limited incomes.”


Transition year costs – which can vary between €300 and €900 per pupil – have become a significant source of stress for parents in recent years, according to the charity.

“Transition year costs can be significant, particularly if a family has more than one child in secondary school,” Ms Stakem said.

She said transition year had lots of social and educational benefits for students. However, as it becomes mandatory in more and more schools, the Department of Education has “to seriously examine how the costs impacts on low-income families and put in place measures to promote participation”, she said.

The society said it was advocating that social welfare payments reflect the higher costs faced by families with children over the age of 12 and it called on the Government to alleviate pressure on parents by making child benefit payable until the end of school and reversing the cuts to the back to school allowance in the forthcoming budget.


“The reality is that the education system is still seeing the effects of the recession,” Ms Stakem said.

She said funding for the School Books Scheme was also "inadequate" and said SVP members had reported that many secondary schools are not offering the scheme while "those that have book rental, typically ask parents to pay a significant contribution of between €100 and €200.

She said it had been estimated that it would “cost approximately €40 million per year to have an entirely free school books scheme. This is very achievable, and a good start would be providing an additional €20 million in Budget 2019.”

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times