A mother who considered not sending her children to school because she could not afford the books and a lone parent who had to come up with €400 to send her two five-year-olds to school in Ennis are just some of the real-life examples of the “huge financial burden” being put on parents sending their children to school, which have been highlighted in a new report.
The report, compiled by the Citizens’ Information Service (CIC) in Clare, based at Bank Place in Ennis, contains examples of how the “prohibitive costs” of both primary and secondary education are affecting local families.
Among the case studies are details of a two parent, four children family already in difficulty with mortgage payments, utility bills and secondary debt.
One child is starting first year and between the cost of a new uniform, books, ‘voluntary contribution’, shoes and other school supplies, the family estimated it would cost €800 to get this one of four children back to school.
According to CIC the mother considered not sending her children back to school, but in the end the family did not pay their mortgage, putting them further into arrears, in order to give their children everything they needed to go back to school.
Also contacting CIC was a lone parent on a social welfare one parent weekly family payment of €247.60, who needed to come up with €400 after getting a back to school grant to send her two five-year-olds to school in Ennis.
“When she visited our office she was under undue pressure to meet these basic costs as she could not afford to budget out of her one-parent payment. This is typical of many parents we meet on a daily basis. Parents are facing huge financial burden as they prepare to send their children back to school,” said Mr Paul Woulfe, CIC manager in Clare.
The report outlines that callers to CIC report many clients find themselves in debt at the start of the school year with the costs incurred in children returning to school.
The Clare CICs Pre-Budget Submission 2013 named a number of priorities for the budget, based on feedback from callers throughout the county regarding the most pressing concerns of the people accessing their services.
One of these priorities concerned the need for “further supports to meet the educational costs for low-income families” and the importance of reducing these costs.
The submission noted that an increasing number of families seek information and advice about how to get additional assistance with schooling costs.
According to CIC, evidence also points to the risk of parents borrowing to meet necessary costs associated with schooling. “The cost of school books, uniforms and school transport have been particularly prohibitive with other costs also putting strain on families including school outings and voluntary contributions,” added Mr Woulfe.
The service also drew attention to the sharp increase in people already seeking support under the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance Scheme.
“The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BTSCFA) has been reduced in successive budgets, cut of 33% for secondary school children and 50% for primary school children, over a two-year period, at a time when household incomes have been falling and costs of living have increased quite substantially,” said Mr Woulfe. “Many low-income working families are not in receipt of social welfare. They are therefore not entitled to a BTSCFA payment, even where their income is below or equivalent to a social welfare payment for their family size/type.
“It is important that families who are eligible for the scheme avail of it.
“The support is available to help parents with the costs of school clothing and footwear for their children.”
Recommendations made by CIC include: all schools be required to introduce a book rental scheme; text books should not be changed by schools unless absolutely necessary; all schools requiring school uniforms should permit the wearing of ‘standard’ school clothing.
While recognising the reliance of schools on parental contributions, CIC have also proposed that the Department of Education recommend that the voluntary contribution requested should not exceed €50 per child per school year.
The cost of travelling to school is also highlighted by CIC, and calls have been made for the setting of an upper limit for school tours. The CIC have also recommended that the BTSCFA net be expanded to include low-income families who do not qualify for social welfare payments and to include all those who are in receipt of Family Income Support.