So… the dust has settled, the initial relief at the lack of obvious nasties has evaporated, and we are left asking ourselves what’s so fair about this budget for those families who are struggling to access that most critical and precious of resources; namely education. Little has been done, from pre-school through to third and further level education, to ease the direct high costs of education in this budget.
How can it be that nothing was done to increase access and affordability of childcare in a country where the average cost of fulltime childcare is €167? Given the explicit agenda to push lone parents into training or work once their child turns 7 years, and the fact that 55,000 lone parents will move onto the Live Register next year, it is surprising that more places have not been made available. All parents who work or study need access to quality afterschool care, but in Ireland this simply does not exist in any structured or regulated way. Don’t we care where, who and how are children are looked after when they step outside the school gates? Where does that leave parents of school going children? Struggling to either afford care with no guarantee of quality or unable to consider work or study. Not a promising situation in a country which we are assured, is moving away from austerity.
For parents of school going children, the continued drop in capitation rates by another 1% means that schools get less funding from the Government for each child that they have on their books. It may only be a few euro per child, but given that schools are already struggling to meet their running costs it will be parents who will be pressurised to make up this shortfall. This extra demand will come on top of the already long list of items that parents struggle to afford; books, uniforms, equipment, school trips, curricular activities, the list goes on. And all against a backdrop of no increases in the Back to School Footwear and Clothing Allowance, or basic social welfare base rates.
It would be churlish not to welcome the commitment to provide more teachers, but this decision wasn’t really optional, given the demographic demands that must be met. But will any of these new posts go towards making good the damaging decision to cut back on the numbers of dedicated Guidance Counsellors? SVP members from all across Ireland have been listing the barriers which stop low income families sending their children to college and lack of access to Guidance Counsellors came very high on their list, alongside the inadequacy of the Maintenance Grant to sustain those students who have to move to study, particularly when rents are soaring. This, coupled with the Student Contribution Charge increase to €3000, is another blow for those students who do not qualify for financial assistance but have limited means.
So – no steps taken to help those most in need of support to access education from pre-school right through to third level and beyond. I can’t see much fairness in that.