Middle-income families in ‘dire straits’ have been ‘left behind’ by back-to-school allowance increase, says Sinn Féin

‘Any family with a household income of €621 a week won’t get a red cent of the back-to-school allowance,’ the Dáil heard

Middle-income families who are in “dire straits” have been “left behind” by the Government’s latest increase in the back-to-school allowance, Sinn Féin has said.

The party’s leader Mary Lou McDonald said any family with a household income of €621 a week will not get “a red cent” of the allowance and called for it to be extended.

The rate of the back-to-school allowance will be increased by €100 under new plans unveiled by Ministers on Tuesday evening.

There will also be a major expansion of the school meals programme and school transport fees will be waived for primary and secondary students.

The measures worth €67 million were announced by Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys, Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil on Wednesday, Ms McDonald said she welcomed the Government’s “U-turn” after “weeks of stubbornness”.

“I am glad that you have finally listened to the Opposition, at least in part, because any extra financial support for families on fixed and low-incomes struggling to make it to the end of the week is a very good thing,” she said.

“But there’s a problem, you’ve left behind middle-income families who are in dire straits. Any family with a household income of €621 a week won’t get a red cent of the back-to-school allowance.

“A household income of €621 is modest. These are families who receive very little support from the State but are now fighting to stay afloat.

“You’ve left behind these families who struggle to pay the mortgage and the rent, who can’t afford to put fuel in the car to get to work or pay extortionate energy bills, families whose grocery bill is now through the roof to such an extent that many have started to cut back on basics.”

Ms McDonald said the back-to-school allowance should be extended to cover an additional 500,000 children “whose middle income parents are in desperate need of support”.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said while the measures announced were “welcome concessions” they were “simply not enough”.

Mc Bacik said there was no radical move to introduce a free schools scheme proposed by her party or increasing the eligibility for the back-to-school allowance which “could be done with the stroke of a pen and would make a real difference”.

The Dublin Bay South TD said there had to be “bigger vision” with more substantive change introduced and the Government’s decision to bring forward the budget by two weeks to September 27th was “a token exercise”.

In response, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said the expansion of the Deis schools scheme announced would mean that 60,000 more children would get a free hot meal, which represented “real change” and made “real difference”.

Mr McGrath said the changes to the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance would not go “far enough” for many and the Government acknowledged that. He said it was “a genuine effort by the Government to help and make a difference”.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times