The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has recorded a 20% decrease in calls for help with back-to-school costs to its regional offices this summer. This contrasts to an overall rise in calls to the charity by 14%, with over 135,000 calls received so far this year. This rise is mainly driven by requests for help with food and energy bills.
SVP says the free primary school books scheme and the temporary €100 increase in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BTSCFA) is having a positive impact on costs for parents of primary school children.
However, it says requests for parent contributions, and the high costs involved at secondary school continue to pile the pressure on parents. Over 250 parents contacted the Society every day last week about back-to-school costs. Almost 60% of these calls came from one parent families.
SVP National President Rose McGowan said, “Meeting parents in their homes this summer we can see how the provision of free schoolbooks is making a positive difference. In my own experience and reflected in our data, more families are just about able to manage primary school costs but requests for ‘voluntary’ contributions are still coming to families and for those with older children the costs are too much to bear.
“We have taken calls from parents who have to pay €600 for an iPad and sometimes they are also asked to pay another €200 for books. The high cost of transition year is increasingly an issue as well.”
“The progress at primary level shows it doesn’t have to be this way and with the right choices in Budget 2024,Government can make a long-term impact on educational inequalities. Promoting access to and participation in education to help break the cycle of poverty remains a priority for SVP.”
SVP Head of Social Justice and Policy, Dr. Tricia Keilthy said; “Making school books free at secondary level is a priority for the new Child Poverty and Well-Being Office in the Department of An Taoiseach, so we are really hopeful that the Budget in October will deliver on this commitment.”
“As our report published in May of this year shows, requests for parent contributions from schools places unnecessary pressure on families. We need to see an end to this unfair system through adequate capitation grants to schools.
“Income supports for families are also important. The €100 increase in the Back to School Allowance must be retained and the thresholds increased to allow more low-income working families to access the payment. Retaining Child Benefit for young people over the age of 18 and still in school would also make a big difference to families supporting their children through the expensive Leaving Cert year.”
She added; “While the progress on education costs is to be commended, the impact of the cost-of-living crisis has not abated as calls overall are still up 14%. The next Budget must have a sustained focus on tackling poverty, particularly with targeted measures for those most at risk of hardship, including one parent families, families with older children, and people with disabilities.”
In July, SVP published its pre-budget submission to Government which outlines its priorities for Budget 2024.