SVP said it received a record number of calls last month, including calls from over 5,000 families seeking help for school costs.
“Particularly at this time of the year, families approach SVP for help with utility bills or food shopping because of the pressure of buying uniforms, books and other materials and paying for the so-called ‘voluntary’ contribution.” SVP spokesperson Tricia Keilthy said.
SVP said the calls looking for assistance with school costs made up about 40% of all the requests for practical help it received last month.
It has made a pre-budget submission to the Government seeking measures to alleviate the financial pressures associated with going back to school.
It calls for a five-year plan to introduce free school books for children, with €15 million more in funding for the School Book Rental Scheme in the meantime.
SVP also seeks increased funding for schools with a view to ending the practice of ‘voluntary’ contributions from parents, as well as a €5 increase in the Qualified Child rate on all social welfare payments for families with children aged over 12.
“Back-to-school this week has been a really exciting time for children and their parents,” Ms Keilthy said.
“But for many low-income and struggling households, the preparation for the new school year has been a huge source of stress and anxiety, with the prospect of further requests throughout the year for contributions for education, exam and extracurricular expenses.”
Ms Keilthy said SVP has seen other expenses outside the usual costs associated with school put pressure on parents, such as the “huge” costs of Transition Year registration and trips and an increasing requirement for “expensive digital devices”.
“Achieving in school can break the cycle of poverty, but if children don’t have the materials they need to learn, if they feel different because their uniform is too small, or they can’t take part in activities like their friends, that really influences their experience of school and educational progress.
“If we really want all to children to have good opportunities, we have to stop making cost a barrier to participation,” Ms Keilthy said.
SVP’s Budget submission also proposed a restoration of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance to the 2011 level of €305 for children over 12 years, and to €200 for children under 12 years, which it estimates will cost the Exchequer €19m. It said members have visited families with parents in low-income work, who are a few euro above the threshold and receive no state assistance.
“Capitation grants have also been reduced since 2010, meaning schools are seeking contributions from families to subsidise running costs,” the charity said.
The Department of Social Protection has a €47.4m budget for back-to-school payments.