The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul’s (SVP) regional offices took and average of 30 calls an hour from parents unable to meet the full cost of sending their children back to school – with 450 calls in one day alone last month..
The SVP said parents and caregivers were doing their best to get their children prepared for the new school year but with so much pressure on household budgets, meeting the full cost was impossible and they were crying out for help..
Almost half of the requests came from one parent families – reflecting the very high levels of poverty experienced among these families.
Rose McGowan, SVP National President said that while the increase this year in the Back-to-School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BTSCFA) and free school transport was helping families, these measures are only temporary and are still a long way off meeting the needs of families struggling with school costs.
“Parents tell us that by the time the bills are paid they have little, or nothing left to buy food and are struggling to pay for schoolbooks and uniforms as well as requests parent contributions. Many parents tell us that they feel they are failing their children by not being able to cover the increasing costs at back-to-school time. This has a huge impact on parents’ mental health and well-being.”
Ms McGowan stated parents were juggling their basic living costs – and were struggling to meet food costs, basic household repairs i.e. washing machine repairs, childcare or education costs. The fear is that food consumption would be reduced to meet return to school costs or other household expenses.
Some of the stories SVP members hear when calls are made seeking help include parents being asked for €150 on the first day and being told “everyone has to pay” and that’s after paying for books, uniforms, tracksuits and stationery.
One day in early August, SVP took almost 450 calls, and many explained the guilt and pressure of feeling like they weren’t doing best for their children:
“The back-to-school allowance didn’t even cover the cost of his books this year. I still have copies, shoes, school bags and uniforms left to buy and that’s without doing the shopping and covering all of our bills.”
“I haven’t been given enough hours at work this month and so I’m not going to be able to pay the bills and cover all the back-to-school expenses, I’m not entitled to the back-to-school allowance.”
“The back-to-school allowance only covered the cost of my child’s tracksuit, he’s grown and needs new shoes and runners as well as a full school uniform.”
“All of my partners wages go on rent and are now using our family’s savings to keep on top of energy and food bills. I feel like such a failure but trying to cover all the back-to-school costs has really made things difficult.”
“I can cover the bills and of course wanting to feed the kids, but it leaves me with nothing to cover their school costs. I’m really anxious, I’m losing sleep.”
“I’ve bought an ipad and books which cost me €1,400 this year, I still have their uniform to buy. I’m doing my best to keep it all together.”
Niamh Dalziel, SVP Research and Policy Officer said, “We have set out in our Pre-Budget submission a number of ways that the government should address school costs and provide genuinely free primary and secondary education to all students.“
The SVP called for an end to the practice of voluntary contribution and asked for the capitation grant to be restored to 2010 levels at a cost of €28m.
To help inform this longer-term goal, we have commissioned research with parents and secondary schools to ask them about the impact of voluntary contributions on their finances so that we can fully understand the issue. The research will support us to have a solid evidence based about the universal question of paying and requiring voluntary contributions for education in Ireland.”
The survey of parents is open until September 11and can be found here, https://bit.ly/3PguMRT
Other Budget 2023 measures SVP advocate includie:
* Expanding free schoolbooks to all students in primary and secondary education at a cost of €40m.
* Increasing support for children experiencing educational disadvantage in non-DEIS schools by establishing a €4 million educational equality fund.
* Full implementation and monitoring of the 2017 school costs circular.
* Ensuring that children with additional needs can access the supports they need by increasing support through NEPS and early intervention teams.
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