Northern Ireland

Families struggle with back-to-school costs as household bills soar

A trade union has said families need more support to meet back-to-school costs.
A trade union has said families need more support to meet back-to-school costs.

Families in Northern Ireland are struggling with back-to-school costs as the term approaches, a trade union has said.

The National Education Union (NEU) has said surging inflation and household bills are placing a “significant strain” on parents buying new uniforms, shoes, P.E. kits and stationary.

Danielle Black, NEU Regional Officer, said the summer months were particularly tough for families already paying for extra childcare and summer schemes.

“Families are at the time of year where their finances are more stressed than ever but new uniforms, shoes and school supplies have to be bought before the children go back to school in only a few weeks,” she said.

Ms Black said a requirement for “branded uniforms seemed “unnecessary” when more affordable alternatives were readily available on the high street.

“In Northern Ireland, the school uniform grant is markedly lower than in other regions of the UK.

“For instance, while it amounts to £42.90 per child of primary school age in Northern Ireland, it reaches £120 in Scotland. Northern Ireland families being left behind and let down.”

Danielle Black, Regional Officer at NEU.
Danielle Black, Regional Officer at NEU.

She suggested quick changes could include moving away from “enforced different dress codes for girls and boys,” which hindered the ability to pass clothing down to siblings and “limiting some students’ full participation in their education”.

Read more

  • Inflation heightens parents' worries about back-to-school costs – survey
  • Increased duty on alcohol will ‘cripple' hospitality businesses

THE NEU add that recent research from the Women’s Regional Consortium and Ulster University show that continuous rise in food prices and the absence of the holiday hunger support scheme raise concerns about how parents will afford school uniforms.

This could lead to an increased reliance on uniform ‘swap shops,’ not as a preference but due to necessity.

The research also proposes the school uniform grant should be increased to be more in line with other UK regions, as well as including an allowance for school shoes to alleviate the financial burden on parents.

Meanwhile, in the Republic the children’s charity Barnardo’s said around a quarter (24 per cent) of parents of secondary school children were taking out a loan or borrowing from friends to meet back-to-school costs.

The average cost for a pupil starting secondary school was said to be €972, covering uniforms, voluntary contributions, digital tools and books.

This September, all primary school pupils in the Republic will receive free books.

Barnardo’s has called this a momentous step but said it should be extended to secondary schools.