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Sunday 21 September 2014

School book costs leave families in debt for rest of year

Emma Jane Hade

Published 04/09/2014 | 02:30

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Catherine Joyce, Head of Advocacy,Barnardos, has said this is a tough time of year for parents
Catherine Joyce, Head of Advocacy,Barnardos, has said this is a tough time of year for parents

FAMILIES are putting themselves into debt for the rest of the year as they struggle to equip their children for the new school term.

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The steep cost of school books and other essentials means it is Christmas before many come to terms with the debts they build up each September.

And the desire to keep up appearances means that middle-class families are cutting back on food and heating in order to make sure their children are well turned-out for school, with the correct uniform and textbooks.

School books represent the major cost in getting ready for the new school year, with parents reporting bills of more than €300 - and one in 10 putting themselves into debt to pay for them.

The schoolbooks industry acknowledges that book costs are high - due to the rising price of paper and a need to provide digital as well as hard-copy books.

Teacher's organisations admit that parents are now heavily subsidising the education system, a situation which they blame on chronic government underfunding.

The Money Advice and Budgeting Services (MABS) said that due to the fact that parents are prioritising school costs at this time of the year, they then find themselves in financial difficulties and stress in September, October and November.

A spokesman said that it sees families struggling to make payments like electricity or gas as well as the rent or mortgage in "a month or two months' time".

"They have to break into their household budget to make ends meet," he said.

Read more: It's bye to books at the new school where every pupil learns with an iPad

Michael McDonagh, who works with Crosscare, said: "We are seeing a lot of middle-class families attending the food banks. They are scrimping and saving to try and make ends meet all the time.

"A lot of families I meet are living week to week, day to day.

"Families are suffering, this is the toughest time of the year for them as far as we could be concerned. And then, once schools start, they are looking at the Christmas bills coming next," he added.

Barnardos estimates that parents in primary school are spending an average of €76 to €100 on textbooks, while three in 10 parents of secondary school students are spending more than €300.

Catherine Joyce, head of advocacy at Barnardos (inset), said that the ever increasing school costs are "pushing families into debt", and added that one mother revealed to them that she is forced to ration basic food items like bread.

St Vincent de Paul was part of the campaign team which led the establishment of a Code of Practice between school book publishers and the Department of Education and Skills in 2010.

Under the code it was agreed that publishers would not revise any text for at least four years, a costly problem which arose in the past. A spokesperson for the Irish Educational Publishers' Association (IEPA) said that this code has not been breached.

However, the price of books remains high in an industry estimated to be worth €60m.

Burden

The IEPA, which represents publishers that produce around 90pc of the educational content tailored for the curriculum, said the cost of books remains high due to digital investment and the cost of paper.

"Paper prices have gone up 25pc over the last five years globally, that has been a massive cost. And (there is) the investment in digital technology by publishers so that they can provide books on every platform," said a spokesperson.

But the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) said the burden is too high and is "evidence of government underfunding of education".

"The State does not provide free primary education - it is highly subsidised by parents, teachers and communities," an INTO spokesperson said.

Irish Independent

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