Dep Brian Walsh has urged parents experiencing financial difficulties to apply for grants to assist with back to school costs that are driving low income families further into debt.
Dep Walsh warned that the escalating cost of school uniforms and textbooks for the school year ahead was forcing parents to borrow money and was going to leave some families facing a bleak winter.
However he said that €15m had been made available by the Department of Education and Skills to contribute towards the cost of books for low income families this year, while an extra €4.6m has been allocated for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Scheme.
“This can be a worrying time of year for a lot of parents who are already struggling to cope financially without the additional burden of back to school costs,” said Dep Walsh. “But it is important that they don’t distress and know that there are supports in place to help them with the cost of uniforms and schoolbooks.
“Around €15m has been provided by the Department of Education and Skills for the School Books Grant Scheme, which is administered by primary and secondary schools at the discretion of the principals,” the Fine Gael TD explained.
“Parents on low incomes, in receipt of social welfare payments, or families in circumstances that have resulted in financial hardship should apply for assistance towards the cost of schoolbooks in advance of the new term.”
Deputy Walsh said the cost of uniforms and textbooks had increased in recent years, and criticised publishers for the frequency with which new editions of schoolbooks were printed, preventing parents from picking up second-hand copies at lower prices.
“Book publishers have been quite cynical and opportunistic in the way that they have churned out new editions of texts that contain negligible changes to their content, and this has been felt in the pockets of low-income families,” he said.
“The Minister for Education and Skills has communicated with the Irish Educational Publishers Association about this practice and is also looking at ways of rolling out book rental schemes that have been piloted to great success in a number of schools, which would be a very welcome development.”
The €15m provided by the Department of Education and Skills has been allocated to primary and post-primary schools around the country on a per-capita basis, with higher allocations in respect of pupils enrolled in DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools ) schools.