By Cian Molloy - 16 August, 2019
“These costs contribute to financial stress and worry in low income households and can cause a negative and stressed attitude towards education.”
Ireland’s VAT regime is unfairly punishing poorer families struggling to provide their children with “free” secondary education, according to the Society for St Vincent de Paul.
SVP’s social policy development officer Marcella Stakem points said it is becoming increasingly normal for Irish secondary schools to require students to have use of a digital device, such as an iPad or a tablet, to access electronic books and homework assignments.
These devices generally cost €700 each. Additionally, education in Ireland also involves voluntary contributions and registration charges, which cost between €75 and €125 per primary school student and €250 to €350 per secondary school student.
“These costs contribute to financial stress and worry in low income households and can cause a negative and stressed attitude towards education,” Ms Staken said.
She said those on low incomes have good reason to have negative attitudes towards electronic school books: printed school books are VAT exempt, but e-books have 23 per cent VAT added to their price tags.
Generally, VAT is considered a fair tax if it is applied to discretionary spending, but digital devices and e-books are becoming mandatory in Irish secondary school education. This additional cost burden contributes to what is called the digital divide, where the educational benefits of ICT technology are not shared equally.
Ms Staken said there is no consideration of this problem in Digital Strategy for Schools, published by the Department of Education and Science in 2017.
Looking at the effect of government policy on access to further education, Ms Stakem said: “The rise in accommodation costs and the cuts and changes to the student grant have made third level more unattainable for low-income groups.”
In Ireland, where you live determines the extent and quality of supports available to students attempting to access third level education, especially in relation to non-adjacent grant rates, with the threshold moved from 24km to 45km in 2011.
“This puts many students at a disadvantage financially, especially those from outside major urban areas,” said Ms Stakem.
“Accessibility and affordability need to be to the forefront of policy making if we are to ensure our education system is serving the needs of vulnerable and marginalised groups.”