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Back to school costs: Parents spending €1,518 on average as Dáil hears calls for more action

The number of parents in debt over back to school costs has increased by 5% to 29%.

Image: Shutterstock/triocean

Updated Jul 6th 2022, 12:57 PM

IT COSTS ON average €1,518 to send a child back to secondary school, a new survey has found.

The Irish League of Credit Unions (ICLU) found that the rising costs of living are heavily impacting back to school costs.

The cost of preparing a primary school child for the year ahead stands at €1,195, according to the ILCU. 

The main findings from the survey include: 

  • Two thirds of Irish parents (66%) say the cost of Back to School is a financial burden
  • Parents spending €1,518 per secondary school child – up €27 on last year
  • At primary school level, parents are spending €1,195 – up €9 on last year
  • 29% are getting into debt compared to 24% in 2021 – average debt of €339
  • 1 in 10 (10%) of parents with school children are considering using an illegal moneylender
  • Use of credit cards to purchase back to school items is up 6% to 23%
  • Significant jump in number of parents cutting back on extracurricular activities, rising to 67% from 46% last year

The findings were revealed in a national survey of 764 parents of school children (out of a sample size of 2,460) by the ILCU. The survey was carried out by independent market research company, iReach Insights in June 2022.

Calls to do more

Yesterday, it was announced that school transport fees are set to be scrapped for the 2022-2023 school year, as part of a new package to curb back-to-school costs.

The package will also add an additional €100 to the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance, raising it to €260 for a child up to 11-years-old or €385 for a child over the age of 12.

Additionally, there will be an expansion of the hot school meals programme to include an additional 60,000 children.

However, opposition politicians have said that the new measures do not go far enough and that the government should have done more sooner.

Speaking during Leaders Questions this afternoon, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald hit out at the government for it’s “stubbornness” on refusing to bring in new measures until yesterday.

“You could have saved all of those families weeks of worry, by making this announcement and taking this decision sooner,” said McDonald.

While McDonald did welcome the package of measures, she said that they did not go far enough to help middle-income families who do not qualify for the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance.

“There is a problem minister, you’ve left behind middle income families who are in dire straits. Any family with a household income of €621 a week won’t get a red cent of back-to-school allowance.”

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said that the measures announced yesterday were an “important intervention” by the Government.

McGrath_LQ3 Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath speaking during Leaders Questions Source: Oireachtas TV

He told the Dáil:”This is an important intervention by government. Does it go as far as some people would like? Of course it doesn’t. Does it offset all of the costs? We never claim that it does, but it is of assistance to many thousands of families.”

He separately hit out at McDonald, saying that previous Sinn Féin emergency budget proposals did not contain any measures surrounding updated back-to-school payments.

Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik called for the Government to be more radical on back-to-school measures, saying that schemes like making school books free would significantly reduce the burden on families.

Bacik said that this proposal would cost €40 million while also calling for further reforms to the “outdated” school transport scheme.

“We need to see bigger vision here, we need to see more substantive change introduced,” said Bacik.

Rising costs of living

The ILCU survey also found that 36% of parents are struggling to make their household budget stretch to cover the additional cost of living increases. One in ten of those struggling are also falling into debt in an effort to cover household costs.

The number of parents in debt over back to school costs has increased by 5% to 29%. Of these, over one fifth (21%) reported debts of over €500. The average debt parents find themselves incurring is €339 which is up (up €3) on last year’s figure.

A small number of this group (3%) would consider going to a moneylender, including 6% of parents with school-going children.

When asked if the moneylender is legal or illegal, 1 in 10 (10%) of parents with school children are knowingly considering using an illegal moneylender.

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The increased costs of living is having an impact on school items with the most expensive secondary school item this year being transport at €213, up from €195 last year.

School books and uniforms are also high at €210 and €195 respectively. After-school care is the top expense for primary school parents at €184, up €27 on last year, followed by extracurricular activities at €167.

The ILCU said there has been a sharp increase in parents saying they can’t afford to send their to extracurricular activities rising to 67% from 46% in 2021. 

Government Reaction

Speaking on Morning Ireland this morning, Education Minister Norma Foley said that more will be done to ease the burden on parents. 

“These are very much time sensitive measures, if you like, and an absolute acknowledgement and understanding that there is always a burden placed on families in terms of back to school and given the cost of living situation which we find ourselves currently there is an even greater burden being placed on families.

“The 67 million euro package announced yesterday ensures that the families are in a much better and stronger position today than they were yesterday.”

Speaking about the findings of this year’s survey, ILCU Head of Communications, Paul Bailey said: “The costs of sending children to school this September are the highest since the ILCU started its annual survey in 2017.

“This, on top of the rising costs of living and high inflation, will heavily impact on households across the country. What is particularly concerning is the increase in the amount of parents reporting that they will go into debt to send their children to school.

“We are also seeing a huge increase in the number of parents using their credit cards to purchase back to school items. As we know this is an expensive form of finance and I would urge parents to consider cheaper forms such as a credit union or bank loan.”

Additional reporting by Tadgh McNally

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