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Rising costs of living impacting heavily on funding back to school costs for NI parents

Posted on: 06 Jul 2022

Back to School Costs

  • 7 in 10 Northern Ireland parents (72%%) say the cost of Back to School is a financial burden - up 10% from 2021

  • Parents spending £826 per secondary school child

  • At primary school level, parents are spending £756

  • 38% are getting into debt compared to 34% in 2021 – average debt of £246

  • 1 in 3 parents forced to deny children certain back to school items - cutting back on extracurricular activities doubles to 74% from 38% last year

  • Half of parents surveyed (49%) are sacrificing the family holiday to cover back to school costs – up from 33% in 2021

  • 2 in 3 parents (72%) say schools don’t do enough to keep costs down

  • Many parents shopping online to save petrol, up to 24% from 11% from last year

Rising costs of living

  • 89% of parents say income or household costs affected by rising costs of living

  • 85% seeing additional costs to groceries and utility bills

  • Almost half (48%) of parents say they are struggling to make their household budget stretch to cover the additional cost of living increases

  • Two in ten (18%) are falling into debt in an effort to cover household costs with 60% trying to earn additional income to cope

  • 61% say increasing costs of school uniforms is the biggest effect of the rising cost of living

Back to School
72% of Northern Ireland Irish parents say the cost of Back to School is a financial burden, up from 62% last year. Parents getting children ready for secondary school are spending £826 per child while parents of primary school children are spending £756. Understandably, more parents of secondary school children are finding costs a struggle, eight in ten (76%) compared with 71% of parents at primary level.

The findings were revealed in a survey of 564 parents of school children across Northern Ireland by the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU). The survey was carried out by independent market research company, iReach Insights in June 2022.

The number of parents in debt over back to school costs has increased by 4% to 38%. Of these, one tenth reported debts of over £500. The average debt parents find themselves incurring is £246 which is down £10 on last year’s figure.

The most expensive item for primary and secondary schools is still school uniforms at £122 and £173 respectively. School lunches, while slightly cheaper than last year, are averaging £100 for primary and secondary. Interestingly, in this year’s survey, the costs of books, transport to school, and after school care are considerably down across both primary and secondary schools – books down £15, transport down £21, and after school care down £24.  

Of considerable note in the survey is the sharp increase in parents saying they will deny their children extracurricular activities because they can’t afford them, almost doubling from 38% to 74% this year. Half of those surveyed (49%) say they will sacrifice the family holiday to help cover the costs of back to school, up from 33% in 2021. The survey also revealed that 63% of schools are still seeking so called ‘voluntary contributions’ at £81 for primary schools and £34 for secondary, an overall average decrease of £15 on last year.

When it comes to funding back to school costs, the majority of parents (79%) use their general monthly income, with just over a fifth relying on their savings. The use of credit cards to purchase back to school items is down 2% to 18% from 2021 while the number relying on a bank or credit union loan is up 1%.  

There is a marked increase in the amount of parents shopping online for school supplies up to 70% from 62% last year. Over two thirds (67%) of these parents do so to access better deals, while 6 in 10 do so to save money. Saving on petrol as a reason for shopping online has seen a significant jump to 24%, up 13% from last year.

48% of Northern Ireland parents consider the costs associated with returning to school in September as their main concern followed by one fifth worrying that their child may not settle or make friends. 19% worry about managing their work/school schedule.
Rising Costs of Living
This year’s survey also looked at the rising costs of living in general. 89% of respondents say their income or household costs have been affected by rising costs of living since the start of the year. 84% are seeing additional costs for groceries with a similar number (85%) experiencing increased costs on household utility bills.

Almost half (48%) of NI parents say they are struggling to make their household budget stretch to cover the additional cost of living increases. Two in ten (18%) are falling into debt in an effort to cover household costs.

When asked what options they were considering to help with costs, 73% of this group said they are cancelling or reducing non-essential services and activities such as gym membership and subscription TV packages. 3 out of 5 parents (60%) said they are trying to earn additional income. Other options include taking a personal loan (17%), borrowing from family or friends (23%), or seeking debt and budgeting advice (23%).
A small number of this group (9%) would consider going to a payday loan company moneylender. When asked if the moneylender is legal or illegal, 1 in 10 (8%) of parents are knowingly considering using an illegal moneylender. One quarter (24%) of all respondents in this group worryingly didn’t know whether their potential moneylender was legal or illegal.

When parents were asked if the rising costs of living were affecting the costs of education, 61% said the Increasing costs of school uniforms was the biggest effect, followed by the costs of school lunches (53%) and the costs of travel to and from school (44%).

More than half of parents with schoolchildren (51%) will have to balance working from either at home or the office with looking after their children over the school holidays. 52% said they would will be using annual leave allowance to balance work and school holidays while just under a third (28%) said they would be relying on family and friends to help out with looking after the children.
Post COVID 19 Concerns
When asked about the impacts of home schooling during the pandemic lockdown on their children, 84% of parents said that the biggest impact was that children missed their friends and social activities. Almost half (49%) said their child’s physical health had suffered with three fifths (60%) worried about their mental health. As regards their child’s education, the biggest concern for parents (47%) is the pressure on their children to catch up on missed teaching over the past two years. There was a marked drop from 2021 in parents’ concern of their child being exposed to COVID 19 as a result of returning to the classroom, down to 24%.
Commenting on this year’s findings, ILCU Head of Communications, Paul Bailey said, “The average costs of sending children to school in Northern Ireland this September are considerably down on last year, at a reduction of £110 for primary school and £208 for secondary. However, the rising costs of living will heavily impact on households across Northern Ireland this winter. This is evident by the sharp increase in parents cancelling extracurricular activities and sacrificing the family holiday to meet the costs of back to school.  What is particularly concerning is the increase in the amount of parents reporting that they will go into debt to send their children to school.”  

“When it comes to moneylenders, it is worrying that 1 in 10 of those parents in debt will knowingly turn to an illegal moneylender, while another quarter don’t know if their moneylender is regulated or not. I would urge parents who feel they have no alternative to a moneylender, to talk to their local credit union about accessing more affordable and ethical forms of finance.”