Parents struggle with back-to-school costs

By Aideen O'Flaherty

A LOCAL conference of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has been “inundated” with calls from parents who are struggling with back-to-school costs, according to Marie Cronin, the vice-president of the Ballyfermot, Cherry Orchard and Clondalkin conference of the charity.

The chief concerns for the parents are covering the costs of school books and a ‘voluntary’ contribution that some schools require, with requests for help in Cherry Orchard alone doubling compared to last year.

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School book costs are causing stress in the home

Ms Cronin told The Echo: “We’ve been inundated with calls, the number of requests compared to last year has increased.

“We have people in Ballyfermot, Clondalkin, Cherry Orchard and Lucan South, Balgaddy, looking for assistance.

“The cost of school books has gone up, and some schools insist on voluntary contributions and make life difficult for the children if they don’t – some of them won’t get to go on school tours or get lockers [if the contribution isn’t paid].

“This means it’s the children in the poorer areas who are left behind. This is very stressful for the parents, and it’s coinciding with their TV licence renewal.

“And a lot of them are afraid that if the weather turns bad in the next few weeks, they won’t have enough money for heating, because they’ll still be paying off the cost of the school books.”

Ms Cronin’s conference took 70 calls between Monday and Tuesday this week, from people who “thought they could cope” with spiralling back-to-school costs, according to Ms Cronin, but found that they were struggling.

“They haven’t the money for the books,” she explained, “and they were hoping against hope that it would work out, but then it’s panic stations by the time they get in touch with us.”

Joe Moran, SVP area president for Tallaght Central, said that while there has been demand for back-to-school assistance in the area, it has not exceeded what the conference expected. However, he has noticed a change in demand over the years.

“When I first started with St Vincent de Paul, 30 years ago,” Mr Moran explained, “the emphasis was on help with rent, and Communions and Confirmations, but now back-to-school is our biggest pay-out of the year, apart from Christmas.”

SVP made a submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills last week, where they called on the government to make school books free across all primary and secondary schools, and to end the voluntary contribution system in non-fee paying primary and secondary schools.

“If school books were free, it would make such a difference,” said Ms Cronin. “The parents wouldn’t have that expense, and the Back to School Allowance would cover the uniform costs.”

On a national level, SVP spent €3.6 million on education, supporting children and young people at pre-school, primary, secondary and third level, as well as supporting further education and training, second-chance education, and promoting lifelong learning opportunities in 2017.

Marcella Stakem, SVP Policy Officer said: “If school books were free, it would significantly reduce the financial stress placed on parents and ensure that all pupils, irrespective of the household income, could access the educational resources required to participate and progress with their education.

“The same benefits would apply by eliminating voluntary contributions.”

People seeking assistance or who wish to volunteer for the charity can call SVP’s Dublin office on 01 855 0022 and they can direct you to your local office, while parish offices can also direct people to their local conference of SVP.

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