Growing numbers of families struggle to pay school costs

A local representative is calling on the Government to do more to help parents struggling with the rising cost of children going back to school. City councillor Mairead Farrell says in the last few weeks she has spoken to a number of parents who are under increasing pressure.

"I have spoken to a huge amount of parents that say the increasing costs of books, stationery, uniforms and voluntary contributions are forcing them to make tough spending decisions or simply take out another loan, "t he Sinn Féin representative says.

These stories are supported by surveys recently carried out by Barnardos and the Irish League of Credit Unions which put total back-to-school costs at more than €900 for primary school students and almost €1,500 for secondary school students. The ILCU survey found that 31 per cent of parents get themselves into debt to cover these costs.

Councillor Farrell says there are measures that can be taken to help these families.

"In 2013, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection completed a report on tackling back to school costs. This report recommended a number of key measures such as the discontinuance of voluntary contributions and charging of fees for enrolment or application; the introduction of mandatory book rental schemes for parents and the introduction of generic school uniforms and guidelines in relation to extra-curricular activities.

"Instead of acting on these important recommendations, the previous government slashed capitation rates to schools, reduced the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance and diminished supports for one-parent families with devastating results for children in disadvantaged households. The reality is that there is no such thing as a free education system in Ireland."

St Vincent DePaul has stated that the Back to School period is the busiest time of year for its organisation apart from Christmas. According to the Barnardos survey, 88 per cent of parents with children at primary school and 94 per cent of parents with children at secondary level are asked to pay a set fee to the school.

Councillor Farrell believes many schools send specific reminders to parents who have not paid the contribution.

"Some even resort to sending reminders or specific requests via children. Worryingly, some schools resort to severe tactics such as denying access to lockers to children whose parents haven't paid the fee. It is high time for this Government to act to put an end to this annual struggle for low and middle income families."

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