Family support groups yesterday called for greater assistance from the state towards meeting the expense, which they said was crippling some households and causing a surge in appeals to the Society of St Vincent de Paul. Society national secretary Columba Faulkner said the general rise in the cost of living had pushed requests for financial help up 50% in the first few months of this year and the upward trend was continuing.
"This time of year is particularly stressful for parents on low incomes and social welfare. They mightn't always look for help to buy books and uniforms, because they'll put off paying the rent or the ESB for a bit, but down the line, they need help when those bills start to mount."
The National Parents Council's primary section said most parents were living in fear of third level fees returning because they were just about able to afford so-called "free education." Chairperson Anita McCann said: "I have six children in school and three in college and at no level are any of them being educated for free. I've just spent €150 on books alone for my seven-year-old going into first class; it's more for some of the older ones and I have three college registration fees of around €800 each." Both organisations urged an increase in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, which provides families on welfare a grant of €80 for children up to 11 and €120 for 12 to 22-year-olds in full-time education, or roughly less than half the average estimated cost of kitting out a child in generic school colours.
The allowance has already been sought for 115,000 children so far in this academic term about one in seven of all school-going children but applications can be made up to the end of September, so the final number is likely to be greater.
Ms McCann also urged the Government to set up a savings scheme similar to the Special Savings Incentive Accounts to enable parents save small and variable amounts.
"Parents should be encouraged to save. Starting out, they have one child in junior infants and they don't think about how the costs spiral, but you'd be getting off lightly to educate any for as little as €54,000."
The figure was calculated by Hibernian Life & Pensions as the minimum cost of educating a child through 13 years of primary and secondary school and four years at a third level institution.