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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C
St Vincent de Paul

Over 250 parents contacted SVP every day last week about back-to-school costs

The charity is “hopeful” that the Government will make school books free at secondary level in the upcoming Budget.

THE SOCIETY OF ST Vincent de Paul (SVP) has said that it received calls from more than 250 parents every day last week about back-to-school costs, as it urged the Government to make schoolbooks for secondary school students free in the upcoming Budget. 

The charity said that almost 60% of these calls came from one-parent families, adding that requests for parent contributions and high costs involved at secondary school continue to pile the pressure on parents.

It acknowledged that 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.

The charity said it is hopeful that the Government will introduce measures in the upcoming Budget that will make schoolbooks free at secondary level.

Calls for help with back-to-school costs to SVP’s regional office were down 20% this summer. However, there has been an overall rise in calls to the charity by 14% this year. 

It said it has received over 135,000 calls so far this year and has seen a rise in requests for help with food and energy bills. 

SVP national president Rose McGowan said the charity has seen how free schoolbooks are making a positive difference for families.

“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,” she said.

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.

In May, a report published by St Vincent de Paul indicated that parents feel under pressure to pay the voluntary charge, with 87% responding to say they had to cut back or delay their spending in order to do so.

The report found that the voluntary contributions ranged from €30 to €550 per child, with an average of €140 per child across all school types.

Speaking earlier this month, Education Minister Norma Foley said that no parent can be compelled to pay a voluntary contribution to a school.

McGowan said the progress at primary level shows the Government can implement measures in Budget 2024 to make “a long-term impact on educational inequalities”.

Dr Tricia Keilthy, head of social justice and policy at SVP, 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.”

Keilthy also called on the €100 increase in the Back to School Allowance to 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.”

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