Struggling to survive

Parents are cutting back on food and delaying paying their bills in an effort to cover the costs of sending their children to school, a survey has revealed.

The Barnardos School Cost survey highlighted serious concerns among almost 1,000 parents questioned, some of whom said they were struggling to cover costs and were “embarrassed” at having to plead with school principals to help them out with items such as schoolbooks.

Reduced household income and cuts to the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance has meant many parents are finding it more difficult to meet basic costs, even if in some cases those costs have fallen.

The survey will be published in full today and comes as figures show that around 1,700 families are applying every day for state help with the cost of sending their children back to school.

Almost 50,000 claims have been made over and above the 115,348 homes already issued with payments of €39.3m.

The department has received 47,000 claims for manual processing, equivalent to an average 1,700 a day. The payments have been cut since last year, from €305 to €250 for dependent children up to 22 years old and from €200 to €150 for younger children.

The survey found 80% said they were struggling to meet the costs involved in sending their child to school, with 10% claiming they were unable to pay bills and were forced to choose between getting a loan or getting into debt.

The Barnardos survey does not include transport costs, but parents said this is still disproportionately affecting children in rural areas.

Some schools have also demanded a higher voluntary contribution from parents, while other schools insist on greater use of tablets such as iPads, heaping further pressure on parents.

One parent told Barnardos: “We cut back on food and let other bills go unpaid to ensure children have what they need for school. The bus costs €350 for the year. We’re living on the edge all the time. So much for free education.”

Another said: “Our spiralling financial situation has meant seeking help from SVP [St Vincent de Paul] for the first time for an electricity account as a matter of emergency — a very undignified and depressing situation to find myself in but every balance I owe is now late, token part-payments being the only way I can keep the wolves from the door and I am struggling to see any light at the end of the tunnel.”

Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay said parents and schools were now stuck in “a vicious circle”, where cash-strapped schools were seeking more money from parents, sometimes resorting to “emotional blackmail”.

“Schools are being put to the pin of their collar and they are trying to pass it on to parents,” said Mr Finlay. He said every child in Ireland had “one constitutional right”, that to an education, but the State needed to be prepared to help cover the cost of delivering on it. “Little by little, that right is being eroded by costs [parents] cannot afford, or they are doing without other basics to cover those costs,” he said.

Barnardos has advocated schools scrapping preferred suppliers of uniforms, allowing parents to incorporate school crests onto high-street uniform clothing, and the bulk buying of books over the next five years by schools using the school Book Grant Scheme, as well as wider use of book rental schemes.

Read more on the Barnardos School Cost survey here: Schools ‘should have to pay more costs’ by Noel Baker


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