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More back-to-school supports are on the way to help struggling families in September, Tánaiste vows

The Government received stinging criticism for not fast-tracking the support for hard-up parents


Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

ENHANCED back-to-school supports are on the way for this September, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

He revealed imminent moves after being told in the Dáil that the end-of-September Budget would come too late for parents who must find cash in August to pay for children going back to school.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar accepted that the rising cost of living could see a fall in standards of living this year, no matter what Government does, with more people entering fuel poverty or living in actual poverty. But he said there were ministerial talks taking place to see what could be done to enhance back-to-school supports.

The Ministers for Education, Social Protection and Public Expenditure are in discussions ordered by the Coalition leaders, he revealed.

“It’s to see if they can come up with some measures to enhance supports available to families when it comes to back-to-school,” he said.

He listed actions the Government was taking, but Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats accused him of ignoring families facing a burden of up to €1,500 per child in back-to-school costs.

An Independent TD, Michael Collins, said the Government was acting “like a British landlord” during the Great Famine by looking the other way when distress was in front of their eyes.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said five bills were being shoehorned into tomorrow’s sitting, whereas the Government was happy to ignore the cost-of-living crisis before summer recess in two weeks’ time. People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said pensioners had lost about €3,500 so far this year and the Coalition wanted them to wait until September.

Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats said Electric Ireland had just last Friday announced a further price increase that would add a further €250 to the cost of gas and €164 to the cost of electricity. “Other providers will undoubtedly follow suit,” she said.

“Families who are already struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table are also having to cope with the huge cost of back to school – up to €1,500 per child,” she said.

“The back-to-school allowance was actually more in 2007, 15 years ago, than it is now. That's really pathetic,” she said, pointing out that last year almost one in four families went into debt to pay for back-to-school costs.

“This year the figure is likely to be significantly higher than that. And why is that? Because the Government is refusing to help,” she said.

At the Summer Economic Statement yesterday , Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath said that once-off exceptional measures would not be announced until the September 27 budget, nearly three months away.

“That delay will guarantee one thing,” Ms Shortall said. “More and more people who are barely scraping by at the moment will fall into poverty and debt.”

It was truly unforgivable that the Government is about to “spin off on holidays” for two months, she said. There was still time for the Government to reconsider and do the right thing by introducing an emergency budget now, “before it's too late,” she said.

The Fine Gael leader acknowledged that back-to-school is a very expensive time for families. “It puts a lot of pressure on family budgets, as is the case when it comes to back-to-college as well,” said Mr Varadkar

But the Government was responding, he insisted. “The back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance will be paid from next week.

“There is an increase of €160 for children aged four to eleven, and €285 for children aged 12 years and older,” he said.

Mr Varadkar pointed out that there had also been an increase in the SUSI third-level grant, which kicks in in September. More people were being made eligible for the grant, while students had been allowed to earn more over the summer without it affecting their grant next year.

“Government accepts that when we announced the increase in the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance back in January, we did not anticipate that inflation would be as high as it is now,” he said. “Our projections were for inflation of maybe only 2 or 3pc. And now it's closer to 10pc.

“So precisely for that reason. Minister [for Education Norma] Foley, Minister [for Social Protection Heather] Humphreys and Minister [for Public Expenditure Michael] McGrath had been in discussions yesterday and today at the request of the Taoiseach, Minister [Eamon] Ryan and I.

“It’s to see if they can come up with some measures to enhance supports available to families when it comes to back-to-school. And we do acknowledge that end of September is too late in that regard. That work is going on.”

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