We asked the government to prioritise children living in poverty in Budget 2024. One way of achieving this was to increase the qualified child payment, a €10 increase for children under 12 and €15 increase for children over 12, but the government announced €4 increase. This is in no way enough to reduce child poverty. It means less for children, children who are born into and who have possibly lived their whole lives in poverty and deprivation. It is impossible to ignore and difficult to understand when the government can create simple, targeted, well researched and compassionate policies to protect those living on social protection.
It makes it more difficult to celebrate the good when the most needed policies don’t go far enough, but we must acknowledge the good and positive announcements that were made in education. You will know that asking the government to provide free schoolbooks has been an SVP request for many a budget day gone by. We felt the collective sigh of relief last year when free schoolbooks were announced for primary school and because of this policy we experienced a 20% reduction in calls for education support. Those of us in the sector who see free schoolbooks as an essential resource in a free education system were delighted to hear that free schoolbooks will be introduced for the junior cycle in secondary schools from September 2024.
At SVP we thought about the parents who responded to our Voluntary Contributions survey last year. They shared their struggle for the relentlessness of the financial demands when sending their children to secondary school, and we hope that for those who will benefit from this policy felt that relief from the dread of another year of incoming school costs.
The government also announced €60million increase in grants, €20million of which is permanent and €40million in one offs, bringing the capitation grant per student up to €345. We hope that the research and recommendations in the “Closing The Gap, What Is Needed To End Voluntary Contributions” report helped in some way to show the real-time pressure and reliance on parents to fund our underfunded education system has contributed to this increase in grants (for this year at least). We also hope this will enable schools to fund what they need, and they too will alleviate the pressure that has been placed on parents with this funding.
School attainment doesn’t just happen with one policy, its many considered policies and the level of support network around the young person and their family, it is a central purpose of the DEIS programme. When a young person makes it to the end of their education experience and is in reach of the final qualification which will be accredited to them their whole lives, their child benefit gets cut off if they happen to turn 18 while still in school. We are delighted to see this change, one very simple policy, which will support and enable 65,263 18-year-olds parents to continue to receive this financial support while they support their child to finish their education to the best possible end.
The reduction of €1,000 in third level education costs is very welcomed, that saving will go into those necessities such as laptops, books, travel, food and accommodation for students. We are delighted to see the doors of the SUSI grant application process open to part-time students. This change will enabling lone parents, disabled students and others who can only access third level education part-time into to the financial grant process which is much needed.
We will continue to campaign for those who will still face financial barriers and structural challenges to accessing education and the basic necessities to live, through research, listening to our members experiences on the ground and talking to government and other stakeholders. Progress can feel slow, but we are moving in a direction that gives us hope.