Parents cutting items from back-to-school lists over costs

By Evelyn Ring

One in four parents will be forced to deny their children basic school items in September.

The average back to-school outlay will be €1,209 per child, up from €1,185 last year, which is a 2% rise, according to a survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions.

It shows that 20% of parents with primary school children and 31% of those with children attending secondary school intend cutting items from the back-to-school list.

More than two-thirds say they cannot pay for extracurricular activities for their children and almost 40% say money is too tight to buy their children school shoes.

A third of parents will use saved money to cover school costs, but 4% say they will consider using a moneylender, a rise of 1% on last year.

Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward said every year parents struggle to make ends meet when it comes to school costs.

“We know from our work on child poverty that parental stress around finances ultimately has a detrimental impact on children’s well-being and outcomes, so more must be done to alleviate the stress and stigma caused by parents having to cut corners to afford back-to-school costs,” she said.

“One tangible way to reduce the cost of education is for schools to provide free access to textbooks for all school children, as they do in other countries.”

Although more parents than ever are in a position to cover school costs — 71%, compared with 64% last year — it continues to be a challenge.

The average cost for a child going to primary school has increased from last year by €81 to €1,048, while the cost for those attending secondary school has fallen from €1,476 to €1,401.

Campaigns to reduce the price of school uniforms seemed to have paid off, with a 21% fall (€39) in their cost since last year.

However, the most expensive school-related cost continues to be extracurricular activities, at an average of €187 per child. School lunches cost €154 and school books cost €150.

Fees and voluntary contributions remain the same as last year, at €113. Most parents (71%) say they will be paying a voluntary contribution this year.

The survey reveals “a notable” increase in the number of parents saying they will cut back on their holiday spending this year because of school-related costs. It found that 43% of parents will cut holiday spending, compared with 38% last year. Just over half (51%) of parents of children attending secondary schools say they have to reduce holiday costs, compared with 39% of primary school parents.

Around one in nine (11%) say they will cut spending on credit cards and food to pay for their children’s education.

The number of parents getting into debt over the back-to-school costs, at 29%, is down 2% on last year.

Also, the average borrowed has dropped slightly, down from €357 last year to €345 this year. The parents of children in primary schools borrow €310 on average, which is significantly less than their secondary school counterparts, at €415.

Most parents (76%) do not believe schools do enough to help keep costs down, up 1% from last year, but the number of secondary school children holding this view is higher, at 85%.

Associated costs (42%) is the primary concern for parents in the lead-up to their children going back to school. They worry more about the costs than how their children will settle at school and make friends, with just 16% saying this was the greatest concern.

Tesco is now the preferred retailer for the bulk of back-to-school items, with 31% getting their educational supplies there.

Dunnes Stores has fallen to second place (19%), followed by Marks and Spencer (11%), and then Aldi (8%).

Almost a quarter (23%) of parents shop in Tesco for school uniforms, while just under one in five (18%) prefer Marks and Spencer.

Dunnes Stores slips to third place, with 15% of parents now shopping for uniforms there, compared with 20% last year.

This article first appeared in today's [url=]Irish Examiner.

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