Monday 21 January 2019

One in five parents forced into debt to cover school costs

The burden of back-to-school costs has seen more parents going into debt. Stock Image
The burden of back-to-school costs has seen more parents going into debt. Stock Image
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Back-to-school costs are running well above the rate of inflation, despite a pledge by Education Minister Richard Bruton to ease the burden on parents.

More parents are being forced to borrow to cover expenses such as the voluntary contribution to their child's school, uniforms and books, according to a survey by the children's charity Barnardos.

The basic cost of sending a first-year pupil to post-primary school next month is €765, while it is €380 for a fourth-class primary pupil and €360 for a senior infants' pupil, Barnardos found.

Overall, average back-to-school costs rose by between 3pc and 9pc on last year, well ahead of the consumer price index (CPI), which was up 0.4pc in the 12 months to June.

And the gap was even greater for clothing and footwear, with parents facing increased costs of up to 22pc, despite a drop in the year-on-year rate of inflation for this spending category. The average cost of a second-level uniform is €200.

Some 53pc of primary school parents and 54pc of post-primary schools parents reported an increase in book costs this year.

More schools are also seeking a voluntary contribution from parents to help pay for day-to-day running costs, a trend probably linked to the austerity era cuts in State grants that have not been restored.

Some 67pc of primary school parents - up 11pc on last year - and 71pc of post-primary school parents - up 2pc - were asked for a contribution.

The burden of back-to-school costs has seen more parents going into debt - 21pc of post-primary parents and 11pc at primary level are borrowing to cover the cost.

Most others either delay payment of other bills or take money out of savings.

Barnardos' chief executive officer Fergus Finlay said parents were continuing to subsidise an "underfunded education system" which claimed to be "free".

He said "enough is enough" and politicians must "finally tackle the burden of school costs and make the provision of free education a political priority".

He called on the Government to uphold a child's constitutional right to free primary education by committing an extra €103m annually, phased in over a three years, starting with €20m in 2019 for free books.

After that, Barnardos wants an extra €127m annually to make second-level free for all.

The rising burden on families comes despite a directive to schools last year by the Department of Education to reduce costs.

A department spokesperson said yesterday the Government was committed to tackling costs, which would be legally underpinned by the soon to be published Parent and Student Charter Bill,

Barnardos' findings echo research published earlier this week by the Irish League of Credit Unions.

Irish Independent

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