More back to school money ‘is needed’ says Willie O’Dea

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has been urged to find money elsewhere in his budget to ensure all eligible families get the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.

Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea said it is worrying that Mr Varadkar’s department appears to have underestimated how much it will need to pay out for the support. He was responding to figures published by the Irish Examiner yesterday showing the €38.8m allocation is likely to be inadequate.

Expecting fewer families to qualify, the Department of Social Protection last October set aside €35.5m for the scheme in 2016, down from last year’s €41m budget. It was later hiked to €38.8m, but nearly €33m has already been paid with less than half of the 45,000 applications received to date finalised.

At least €40m is now likely to be needed by the time the rest of these are processed, in addition to the €27m paid last month to 108,000 families who qualified automatically.

“They also have to look at the criteria, people nearly have to pass a poverty test to qualify,” said Mr O’Dea, his party’s social protection spokesperson.

“I’m coming across people who can’t afford school uniforms, but there are people getting assistance from the Department of Social Protection who could very well survive without it.”

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar

The department said the BSCFA is open for applications up to September 30, and all who qualify will be paid the allowance. A spokesperson said it is not possible to know how many more will receive payment or to estimate the final cost in 2016.

The budget for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance has been more than halved since reaching a peak of €90m in 2011. The scheme pays €100 for primary pupils, half the €200 rate up to 2012, and the €200 for older students was previously €305.

Barnardos’ back-to-school survey last month placed the average cost of uniforms and shoes for primary pupils slightly lower than last year at around €150. But the €265 average for a child starting second-level education was higher than in 2015.


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