Back to school costs are a financial burden for Northern Ireland parents
Posted on: 15 Jul 2021
Back to school costs are a financial burden for Northern Ireland parents as more report going into debt according to ILCU annual survey
Over a third of parents get into debt covering the costs of back to school
14% have debts over of £500, which is an increase of 5% from 2020 and average debt of £256, an increase of £34 from last year.
Parents spending £1,034 per secondary school child. At primary school level, spending is at £886 per child.
Almost 2 in 3 parents believe that schools don’t do enough to help keep the costs of going back to school down - an increase of 10% from last year
Covering the cost of back to school is a financial burden – up 8% on last year
Despite the pandemic lockdowns and children being home schooled for the early part of the year, back to school spending is already on the minds of parents as they prepare for the new school year in September. The latest Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) survey on back to schools costs shows that families in Northern Ireland are getting into more debt to meet those costs. Over a third get into debt covering the costs of back to school, with an average debt of £256, an increase of £34 from last year. 14% have debts over of £500, which is an increase of 5% from 2020.
The ILCU have been carrying out back to school research in Northern Ireland since 2018 and, it is evident that there has been a steady increase in the average debt parents are getting into. In the past three years, there has been an increase of £64 in the average debt.
The overall spend on school items is down slightly for both primary and secondary schools. The cost of sending a child to primary school this September is coming in at £866, down £5 from last year, while for secondary school parents the average spend is £1,034, down £42 on last year.
The most expensive item this year for both primary and secondary was school uniforms at £126 for primary, a decrease of £5 from 2020 and £181 for secondary, an increase of £4. Spending on shoes has increased for primary school to £74 (up £11 from 2020). Spending on gym gear/sports equipment has increased for secondary (£113, up £14 from 2020).
Cutting back on family holidays is still one of the biggest sacrifices that families make to cover back to school costs at 33%, an increase of 10% from 23% last year. Significantly, 39% are forced to deny their child/children school trips because they cannot afford them, an increase of 9% from last year. 33% of parents say they will have to deny their children new gym gear, also an increase of 7% from 2020.
Funding back to school continues to be a challenge for parents with 62% saying that covering the cost of back to school is a financial burden, an increase of 8% from last year.
70% of Northern Ireland parents said they use their monthly income to pay for back to school costs, followed by credit cards at 20%. Unsurprisingly, the number of parents using savings is up 6% from 2020, possibly due to reduced spending during the lockdown. A credit union loan is the preferred choice of 4% of parents while 2% are still turning to moneylenders.
This year’s survey also revealed that 3 in 5 parent shop online for school supplies, the same as last year, with respondent’s citing better deals (61%) as the main reason for doing so.
Impacts of COVID-19 – Home-schooling and Lockdowns
COVID-19 has had a profound effect on households with 68% of those surveyed reporting that the mental health of their household has been affected and 58% believing that their children’s wellbeing has been affected, a significant increase of 31% compared to last year.
As expected, households struggled with the challenges of home-schooling with 34% saying they found it difficult to juggle home-schooling with work commitments. Interestingly, over a quarter of Northern Ireland parents found that more involvement in their children’s education was a positive.
The financial impacts of home-schooling increased in 2021, with 22% saying they had additional costs due to lockdown, up from 8% last year. More than half of parents (52%) felt the cost of feeding children at home impacted them, which has doubled from 25% last year. Also of note is nearly a third (32%) of parents reported that expenditure on laptops/tablets to support home-schooling has had an impact on their household finances compared to 7% in 2020.
65% of parents agreed that that home-schooling and lockdowns had a negative effect on their children’s overall educational performance, and 66% said that their children were less focused on schoolwork.
One of the biggest impacts of home-schooling and lockdowns, according to 88% of parents, was that children missed their friends and social activities. 57% of parents also said that despite this, children enjoyed being at home and spending more time with family.
New School Year
As a result of the schools being closed for a number of weeks at the start of the year, 46% of parents in Northern Ireland think that a focus should be put on children’s mental health when they return to school in September. 36% of respondents believe that the school calendar should be adjusted to accommodate for missed time during the school year.
While a decision has not been made on the rollout of vaccinations to children, 64% of parents agree vaccinations should be offered to secondary school students, with 42% in agreement that vaccinations should be offered to primary school children.
The biggest concern for parents about their children going back to school is the impact of further lockdowns (53%), while 43% are worried about exposure to COVID-19 and the health and safety of their children.
Commenting on this year’s findings, ILCU Head of Communications, Paul Bailey said “Since we began carrying out our back to school in Northern Ireland, we have seen a steady increase in the amount of debt parents are getting into. Over a third get into debt covering the costs of back to school, with an average debt of £256.
For parents with more than one school going child, back to school costs place huge financial pressure on a family. While the overall spend is down slightly this year, our survey shows that 14% of parents are getting into a debt of over £500. If parents are unable to pay for back to school from their household income or through their savings, I would encourage them to explore cheaper forms of finance, by talking to their local credit union or bank, rather than using a credit card or going to a moneylender.
For the second year in a row, we asked parents how COVID-19 had impacted their family life. One third of parents found home schooling and working a struggle, with over two thirds worried about the impact on their children’s overall educational performance. While many parents expect their children to return to school in September, they are concerned about the effect of further lockdowns and their child’s exposure to the COVID virus. Many households incurred extra costs as a result of home schooling such as buying more food and having to invest in laptops and tablets to support their children’s education. Again, I would encourage parents to talk to their local credit union to see how they can help”.