09 September 2021, The Tablet

Parents struggling with back-to-school costs

Parents struggling with back-to-school costs

Parents struggling with back-to-school costs inundated the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) in Ireland with calls for help ahead of schools reopening.

The charity received almost 300 calls every day last week from parents struggling to meet school costs, up 10 per cent on previous years.

The SVP said many of the calls related to requests for financial help with parental contributions to school, with schoolbooks, digital equipment, and school uniforms.

It said it was particularly concerned about the number of calls from worried parents in relation to the cost of iPads and tablets. Many of these devices cost between €600 and €800 and are too expensive for struggling families who are already trying to cope with rising utility costs.

According to the SVP, the level of demand underlines the need for greater investment in the education system to ensure that all children can access and participate in education on an equal footing.

Rose McGowan, SVP National President, said that though children and young people were looking forward to meeting up with their friends and resuming some normality after a tough eighteen months, "For struggling parents, the preparation for the new school year is a huge source of stress, in particular the anxiety associated with the prospect of requests for contributions or other expenses for extra-curricular activities.”

In this year’s pre-budget submission, the SVP recommended that the Government prioritise investment in measures to address educational disadvantage and rising school costs by scrapping ‘voluntary’ contributions in non-fee paying primary and secondary schools and making schoolbooks free for all primary and secondary students.

It also called for digital poverty among low-income households to be addressed by ensuring sufficient resources are allocated to implement the digital schools’ strategy.

“Budget 2022 must lay the foundations for everyone to reach their potential and it must leave our education system in a better place than the way we found it before Covid-19,” according to Marcella Stakem, SVP Research and Policy Officer.

The SVP is asking schools to be extra cognisant of the needs of low-income students at a time when many parents are out of work and on inadequate or reduced incomes.

Some of the poverty proofing strategies schools employ include spreading the cost of in-school activities over the course of the school year, offering alternatives for low-income families including waivers and payment plans, being mindful of uniform breaches that may be linked to poverty, and adopting cost cutting measures such as the use of sew on uniform crests and a ban on non-reusable workbooks.

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