Supporting Local News

Call for ‘voluntary’ school contributions to be scrapped

Children’s charity Barnardos wants an end to ‘voluntary’ contributions to help ease the pressure of back-to-school costs on families.

The charity also urged Government to introduce free schoolbooks and affordable school uniforms.

“No parent should face financial pressure and struggles in trying to meet what are essential costs for their children’s education. No child should feel any anxiety about their parents’ ability to meet school costs.

“For many families, struggling to meet recent cost of living increases has meant their ability to be able to afford back to school costs is particularly precarious this year. The government should set out plans to provide genuinely free education for all children,” a spokesperson for Barnardos said.

According to Barnardos, the average cost of the basics needed for a fourth class pupil is €424. It is €814 for a First Year pupil and €722 for a fifth year pupil.

A survey by the charity revealed most parents are worried about the cost of sending their children to school. Some 69% of parents of primary children and 74% of post-primary said they were worried about meeting school costs.

These fears persist despite Government announcing back to school relief targeted at lower income families.

The Back-to-School Clothing and Footwear Allowance is up by €100 for each eligible child this year. This means that the amount paid for children aged 4-11 is €260; and the rate payable for each child over 12 is €385.

The rates are payable to people in receipt of certain social protection payments, or taking part in approved employment, education or training support schemes with incomes below a certain threshold. Around 151,000 families will benefit from the increase.

Government also increased the number of schools eligible for the Schools Meals Programme. Anyone who receives a school transport ticket for the upcoming academic year will not be charged a fee for their school bus ticket this year, saving families up to €500.

Disabilities Minister and Galway East Fianna Fáil TD Anne Rabbitte said: “We recognise this is an expensive time of year for families, particularly those with a number of children in school. The announcement of a targeted suite of measures to help families with back to education costs this September across transport, clothing, footwear and meals, builds on the additional cost of living supports we have introduced since Budget 2022 and I believe it will be welcomed by many parents.”

But Galway West TD Mairéad Farrell said the measures did not go far enough.

“Middle income families need help this summer. They can’t wait. People who have one child in school and who have a combined income of €620 or more per week don’t get any assistance in terms of Back To School Clothing and Footwear Allowance. Sinn Féin is proposing that this eligibility is widened to include middle income earners,” she said.

“These are people on modest incomes who are working hard and cannot afford to pay these spiralling back-to-school costs. It would be fair and reasonable for the eligibility to be widened to ensure these families get a break from the cost-of-living crisis,” she added.

Deputy Farrell said that Sinn Féin would pay the Back-to-School allowance to an additional 500,000 families. This would cost the Exchequer around €150m.

She said the findings of the Barnardos survey were ‘extremely worrying’.

“Our proposals are fair, reasonable and deliverable. They would make a real difference to families who are under major financial pressure,” added Deputy Farrell.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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