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Dublin: 3 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019
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A record number of people sought help from St Vincent de Paul last month

The new figures coincide with new data on a surge in homeless children in Dublin.

The charity said that the costs of returning to school can be a source of 'stress and anxiety' for families
The charity said that the costs of returning to school can be a source of 'stress and anxiety' for families
Image: " "/Photocall Ireland

ST VINCENT DE Paul received a record number of calls last month, with more than 5,000 families contacting the charity for back-to-school help.

The start of a new school year is a source of “stress and anxiety” for many households, SVP spokesperson Tricia Keilthy said. Those looking for back-to-school assistance made up 40% of the requests for practical assistance the charity received from households last month.

The charity is calling on the Minister for Education to implement truly free education, abolishing the voluntary contribution by investing a further €35 million in schools. It’s pre-Budget recommendations also call for an increase in funding for the School Book Rental Scheme of €15 million and for a five-year plan for the delivery of an entirely free school book scheme.

“Particularly at this time of the year, families approach SVP for help with utility bills or food shopping because of the pressure of buying uniforms, books and other materials and paying for the so-called ‘voluntary’ contribution,” Keilthy said.

Back-to-school this week has been a really exciting time for lots of children and their parents. But for many low income and struggling households, the preparation for the new school year has been a huge source of stress and anxiety, with the prospect of further requests throughout the year for contributions for education, exam and extra- curricular expenses.

Keilthy said that additional costs, such as Transition Year trips and expensive digital devices, are issues for families.

“Achieving in school can break the cycle of poverty, but if children don’t have the materials they need to learn, if they feel different because their uniform is too small, or they can’t take part in activities like their friends, that really influences their experience of school and educational progress. If we really want all children to have good opportunities, we have to stop making cost a barrier to participation,” she said.

While St Vincent de Paul welcomed the increase in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance this year, it says that the allowance remains significantly below 2011 levels – something that impacts the many families in low-income work who are a few euros above the threshold and thus receive no state assistance.

Homelessness

St Vincent de Paul also described the high number of homeless children in Ireland as a “grave concern”.

Figures released today as part of the Census 2016 show 27% of homeless people were under 18 years old, with 896 families recorded as homeless.

The Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, today expressed condolences to the families of a homeless man who was pronounced dead after being found unconscious close to Grafton St earlier this week, and a homeless woman who died in a separate instance on the same day.

Murphy described the levels of homelessness in Ireland as “totally unacceptable”.

The government and my department, working with the local authorities, voluntary sector and other stakeholders, are doing everything we can – but I know we need to do more.

The Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, said that the new figures represent a “wake-up call” for the government.

Read: ‘Not a legacy to be proud of’: Charities tell ministers how to pull 139,000 children out of poverty >

Read: Minister says growing number of homeless children is a ‘wake-up call’ for government >

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