By Sean Ryan - 10 September, 2017
“Back-to-school this week has been a really exciting time for lots of children and their parents. But for many low income and struggling households, the preparation for the new school year has been a huge source of stress and anxiety”.
As children from all over the country have returned to both primary and secondary school over the past two weeks, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has revealed that it has received a record number of calls in August, which included calls from over 5,000 families seeking back-to-school help.
Last month, a survey of parents conducted by the Irish League of Credit Unions found that 72 per cent of parents with school-going children feel the back-to-school spend is a financial burden. The survey, which was conducted by market research company iReach with a panel of 1,000 people, found that a quarter of parents will have to deny their children some basic school items this year.
More than 25 per cent of those surveyed also said the back-to-school costs will have a negative impact on household bills. The survey found that the average return to school spend continues to increase and has now reached €1,209 per child, up from €1,185 last year.
SVP spokesperson Tricia Keilthy said that “Particularly at this time of the year, families approach SVP for help with utility bills or food shopping because of the pressure of buying uniforms, books and other materials and paying for the so-called ‘voluntary’ contribution.”
She added: “Back-to-school this week has been a really exciting time for lots of children and their parents. But for many low income and struggling households, the preparation for the new school year has been a huge source of stress and anxiety, with the prospect of further requests throughout the year for contributions for education, exam and extra-curricular expenses. As well as the ordinary costs of school, some of the emerging issues that we see include the huge costs of Transition Year registration and trips and an increasing requirement for expensive digital devices”.
SVP is calling on the Minister for Education to start to make free education a reality, with proper funding for schools and additional supports for parents. Tricia Keilthy said that “Achieving in school can break the cycle of poverty, but if children don’t have the materials they need to learn, if they feel different because their uniform is too small, or they can’t take part in activities like their friends, that really influences their experience of school and educational progress. If we really want all children to have good opportunities, we have to stop making cost a barrier to participation.”
Among the measures SVP is seeking in its pre-budget submission are an increase in funding for the School Book Rental Scheme by €15 million and the implementation of a five-year plan for the delivery of an entirely free school book scheme.
The Society is also calling for an end to the practice of ‘voluntary’ contribution by adequately funding schools (€35 million), the provision of an additional €20 million funding for classroom resources, the payment of Child Benefit to families with children over 18 who are enrolled in secondary school and the restoration of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance to the 2011 level of €305 for children over 12.