BUDGET 2016: Budget ‘no impact’ on cost of education

Parents may see improvements in their children’s classrooms but Budget 2016 has done little or nothing to ease the cost of educating them, says the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BSCFA) will remain next year at half the amount it was in 2011 for younger children.

While Social Protection Minister Joan Burton is allocating €9 million less than this year’s €44.3m for the scheme, as fewer families are qualifying, the SVP said she should spend the saving on increased rates, widened eligibility, or both.

Her government colleague Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan also failed to restore any of the 6% cuts of the last four years to capitation grants paid to schools by her department for day-to-day running costs. While schools, with growing enrolments, may receive larger amounts, as the main grants are based on pupil numbers, schools have complained that they will still not be able to keep up with energy, insurance and other costs.

This, in turn, said SVP social justice and policy officer Audry Deane, will leave parents yet again being asked for so-called ‘voluntary contributions’ and fundraising support to help meet the shortfalls.

“I don’t think there will be any substantial change there at all, parents will continue having to dig very deep to keep their children’s schools running. And that doesn’t count things like swimming or drama, all compulsory parts of the curriculum, but which families still have to pay extra for,” she said.

Ms Deane said that, welcome as the announcement of reduced pupil-teacher ratios and grants for running repairs were in Budget 2016, there was nothing to help parents specifically with the cost of sending their kids to school. A third and final €5m round of additional book grants for schools will be paid in 2016 by the Department of Education, while Ms Burton is giving parents an extra €5 a week in child benefit in January and expects 59,350 families to benefit from widened access to family income supplement for homes with children.

Ms Deane said the BSCFA cuts of recent years have effected the poorest families, but SVP has a major concern also about thresholds at which people qualify for the support. A couple with two children are not eligible if they earn over €593 a week, with a limit of €440 for a lone parent-of-two.

The rate paid for children of primary school ages was €200 in 2011 but was cut back to €150 in 2012 and to €100 a year later. Parents now receive €200 for older students, compared to €305 in 2011 and €250 in 2012.

Although the Department of Social Protection said there will be no cuts to the rates of payment, the income thresholds to be eligible, or the welfare payments families must be receiving to qualify, budget figures show the scheme will suffer a 20% cut next year.

“The 2016 allocation is based on payment trends in 2015 and an expected further reduction in the number of applications next year as the Live Register continues to fall,” a department spokesperson said.

It has paid out €40m so far this year to 158,000 families, with €26.3m paid in July to 105,000 families who qualified without having to apply.

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