Over 5,000 families sought back-to-school assistance from SVP last month

Anne O'Grady

Reporter:

Anne O'Grady

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) received a record number of calls in August

The preparation for the new school year has been a huge source of stress

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) received a record number of calls in August, which included calls from over 5,000 families seeking back-to-school help.

That is about 40% of the requests for practical assistance received by the Society last month from households in need.

This figure may even be understated according to the Society as SVP members often see families cut back on essentials like food and heating due to school costs.

“Particularly at this time of the year, families approach SVP for help with utility bills or food shopping because of the pressure of buying uniforms, books and other materials and paying for the so-called ‘voluntary’ contribution.” said SVP spokesperson Tricia Keilthy.

“Back-to-school this week has been a really exciting time for lots of children and their parents. But for many low income and struggling households, the preparation for the new school year has been a huge source of stress and anxiety, with the prospect of further requests throughout the year for contributions for education, exam and extra- curricular expenses.

“As well as the ordinary costs of school, some of the emerging issues that we see include the huge costs of Transition Year registration and trips and an increasing requirement for expensive digital devices.

“Achieving in school can break the cycle of poverty, but if children don’t have the materials they need to learn, if they feel different because their uniform is too small, or they can’t take part in activities like their friends, that really influences their experience of school and educational progress. If we really want all children to have good opportunities, we have to stop making cost a barrier to participation.” she said

SVP is calling on the Minister for Education to start to make free education a reality with proper funding for schools and additional supports for parents.

While the increase in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance this year was welcome, says SVP, it remains significantly below 2011 levels. SVP members visit many families with parents in low income work
who are a few euros above the threshold and receive no state assistance. Capitation grants have also been reduced since 2010 meaning schools are seeking contributions from families to subsidise running costs.