CORK families have inundated The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) with hundreds of calls in recent weeks as they struggle to cope with the financial stresses associated with the return of primary, secondary and third-level education.
The SVP recently reported that they took almost 300 calls every day last week from parents nationwide struggling with back-to-school costs. Calls for help with school costs are up 10% compared to previous years.
The regional coordinator of St Vincent de Paul for the Cork and Kerry area, Gerry Garvey said Cork replicates the nationwide picture.
“In the last two weeks in Cork we have received hundreds of calls looking for support for back to school. People are worried about contributions, school books, school uniforms and general costs. It comes against the backdrop of Covid-19 and people are fairly drained in every respect,” he said.
Mr Garvey said the St Vincent de Paul volunteers are doing their best on the ground to support as many Cork families as possible. “We do a food support programme which is funded through the EU. We have also distributed 800 school kits all over Cork city and county. One is for the junior cycle, one for students from third to sixth class and one for the secondary school students. It has a bag with pencils and rubbers and all the things you need for school.
“We are getting a huge number of calls in relation to digital equipment. We are supporting people on the ground as most schools are going back in the next week. We are getting a lot of calls, but we always urge people don’t be slow to ring. We can’t go out looking for people to help. People have to come to us. We will do our best to support people in distress,” he added.
The regional coordinator said people are "nervous", but warned things could get even tougher going forward.
“People are nervous. It is a very tough time. The next little while could be tougher as there are plans to scale back the PUP payments and people don’t know if they will have jobs to go back to.
"People who work in the hospitality, entertainment and the arts industry, in particular, don’t know what is around the corner. It all impacts on families.”
SVP says the level of demand underlines the need for much greater investment in the education system to ensure that all children and young people can access and participate in education on an equal footing.
Marcella Stakem, SVP Research and Policy Officer added: “We need to ensure that we have a properly funded and inclusive education system that is genuinely free for everyone.
"Budget 2022 must leave our education system in a better place than the way we found it before Covid-19,” said Ms Stakem.
The SVP is asking schools to be extra cognisant of the needs of low-income students and families at a time when many parents are out of work and on inadequate or reduced incomes.