By Cate McCurry, PA
The Minister for Education has suggested that the eligibility criteria for the back-to-school allowance could be widened to allow more cash-strapped families to receive the payment.
Norma Foley said she accepts many struggling families will not qualify for the means-tested Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.
The Government announced that the back-to-school allowance is to increase by €100 per child, as part of a €67 million package announced to help with the cost-of-living crisis.
The allowance of €160 is currently available to children who are aged between four and 11 on September 30th.
Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said the increase would be paid to 120,000 families automatically, with a further 30,000 families receiving their payment over the coming weeks, affecting some 262,000 children in total.
The one-off measure will result in an allowance of €260 for children aged four to 11, and €385 for those aged 12 and over.
The increase has been welcomed by opposition parties, however Sinn Féin education spokesman Donnchadh O Laoghaire said the rate increase will not help struggling parents who do not qualify.
He called for the payment to be extended to middle-income parents.
Ms Foley said she accepts not all families will be in line for the payment. “It wasn’t possible to do everything yesterday in one fell swoop,” she told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.
“It’s very much part of a process and I have every confidence that Minister Humphreys will be looking at all the aspects in terms of back to school in terms of perhaps widening the eligibility criteria. That is important.
“We were in a position yesterday to make the announcement in terms of those who are in receipt of it, that they would now be in receipt of an additional €100.
“We are not in a budget situation. This is not the budget. These are measures that there was an opportunity to look at now in the month of July.
“We are saying that there’s a further opportunity and this is a cumulative process, that there’s a further opportunity to look further at these measures and indeed other measures on September 27th.”
She said the Budget will provide a cost-of-living package.
“So every initiative, every opportunity that is available to ministers in their various different portfolios will be availed up to ensure that we are tackling cost of living,” Ms Foley added.
To help struggling families with back-to-school costs anyone who has applied for and receives a school transport ticket for 2022/23 will not be charged a fee for their school bus ticket this year.
This will provide families with savings of up to €500 on the cost of tickets. pic.twitter.com/O4QMI1eKit
— Fianna Fáil (@fiannafailparty) July 5, 2022
“These were immediate measures simply because it was back to school time now. There is an absolute commitment in terms of September 27th.
“As I said originally, it is a cumulative process but there is and will always have to be a flexibility from government to react to the situation as situations arise.
“We have shown that consistently over the last number of months and indeed I would say over the last two years in government right throughout Covid.”
Ms Humphreys also announced on Tuesday that the school meals programme would be expanded to include an additional 60,000 children from 310 DEIS schools.
Ms Foley also announced that school transport fees would be waived for the coming academic year, calling it a “significant investment” affecting all 121,000 families who would normally pay those fees.