Parents are facing back-to-school costs of up to €1,500 per child with more than a quarter falling into debt to pay the bills.
With parents still unsure whether their children will be able to return to school as normal due to Covid-19, the annual survey of back-to-school costs by the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) has also found that 22% of parents are facing into the new term with reduced income due to the pandemic.
The ILCU found the overall spend on school items for primary school students now stands at €1,123, up €174 from last year. In secondary schools, parents' average spend is €1,467, up €68.
The survey found 27% of parents are getting into debt to cover the costs. While this figure is down from 36% in 2019, the average debt parents find themselves in has increased by €40 from €357 to €397. Of those falling into the red, more than 81% have debts of over €200 with more than a quarter of these having debts of over €500.
The top expense is after school care for parents of primary school children, which increased from €117 in 2019 to an average of €200 this year, and books for second-level parents at €196, down slightly from €220 last year.
Voluntary contributions for primary schools have increased by 25% to an average of €110 per child, with secondary school contributions remaining at an average of €140, the survey found.
Over two-thirds of parents use their general monthly income to meet back to school costs, while an increasing number— one in five — reported using a credit card this year. A further third said they dipped into savings, while 6% took out a credit union loan, and 3% turned to moneylenders to find the funds.
Two-thirds of parents surveyed said covering back to school costs was a financial burden and schools do not do enough to help parents keep costs down.
The survey of 948 parents in June also highlighted Covid-19 concerns among parents, with 22% reporting a reduction in household income and 21% citing extra food costs when homeschooling as the biggest effect on household finances since the pandemic struck.
Almost half of parents said they would carefully consider what measures are in place before deciding whether to send their children back to school.
If schools do not reopen or only partially reopen, 38% said they do not have the necessary resources for homeschooling, such as educational resources and materials.
Director of the National Parents Council Post Primary, Sean O’Riordan, said more parents were calling the council's helpline this year and Covid-19 is likely to increase the “real cost” of returning to school.
Mr O'Riordan also expects a higher percentage of parents — more than the 49% found in the survey — will be weighing up the risks of sending children back to school and that parents were facing a “real dilemma”.
Parents will be making “life or death” decisions about the risk of infection and also the potential financial implications of either sending children to school or keeping them at home.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and confusion because all of the plans haven’t been worked out yet. The question for parents is do they send their child to school? Is it a safe place for them and for their family?” he said.
“It is a real dilemma for parents. When all of the questions are answered there will still be a big financial tag attached to whatever decision parents make. If you decide to stay at home and have to do homeschooling there is a price to be paid but there are also potential financial consequences if the virus is brought home and you’re out of work,” Mr O’Riordan said.
“I think it will come down to the wire, possibly the day before the schools are due to reopen. It’s chaos really to a point. Obviously work is underway at Government level but there is a lot of uncertainty and the situation could change rapidly as we have seen in three counties in recent days,” he said.