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ILCU Back to School research shows 79% of parents in NI under pressure due to schooling costs

Posted on: 10 Jul 2024

Research shows an increase in the prevalence of parents turning to money lenders for finance 


Those having to borrow to cover the costs (almost 2 in 5, or 39% of parents) are having to borrow more than they did in 2023

The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) has published the 2024 results of its annual Northern Ireland Back to School survey which tracks the costs and impacts of children returning to school as well as broader cost of living factors. Conducted by i-Reach in June 2024, 540 parents from across Northern Ireland responded.
The 2024 research has found that a significant majority of parents (79%) still consider back to school costs a financial burden, up slightly from 78% in 2023. 

The total back to school spend in 2024 stands at £918 for primary school parents and £1,086 for secondary school parents. This is an increase of £81 for primary school parents and £97 for secondary school parents when compared to the 2023 research. 

Commenting on this year’s findings, Martin Fisher, from the ILCU; “The 2024 Back to School survey results show that parents and households across Northern Ireland still face considerable pressures when it comes to schooling costs. Our research shows that in 2024, families are still prepared to sacrifice both family experiences such as holidays and also essentials such as food in extreme cases, to cover schooling.

“The research also illustrates the impact of debt with 39% of parents stating that they get into debt covering back to school costs, and the average amount is £265. While this is a very modest improvement on our 2023 research, to combat these costs in 2024, 35% are actively trying to earn additional income. This is particularly challenging when we consider that 87% of respondents have been impacted by the rising costs of living since the start of 2024, and as such many have little choice but to take on debt.”

Mr Fisher continued, “The issue of debt is one that goes beyond back to school. Of note and particular concern has been the increase of parents borrowing from money lenders in 2024, up to 3% from 1% in 2024. Although a relatively small proportion, the trend is important as it shows that parents who may already be in difficulty are turning to unregulated entities for immediate access to funds, which potentially has longer term ramifications.

“Also worryingly, our 2024 findings highlight the reliance on buy now, pay later schemes to manage these costs. As an unregulated credit provision, such schemes do little to highlight the true cost of borrowing to consumers, with limited visibility of overall financial positions across multiple providers. And as we see this become an option for groceries and other essential, ongoing household items when buying online, it becomes easier than ever for individuals to over-stretch themselves, and be faced with additional fees/charges as a result.

“This is where credit unions can and do offer an important support to families in terms of both savings and secure access to credit. As a not-for-profit cooperative owned by members, credit unions have for almost 65 years supported communities across Northern Ireland. Over a third of the population are members, more than commercial banks, and we would encourage parents to engage with their local credit union to support not only their immediate needs but also plan sustainably for the future.” 

The 2024 Northern Ireland research also yielded the following insights:

• 72% of parents say their children’s school asks for a ‘voluntary’ contribution, with £102 the average payment. The average contribution is £94 for a primary school parent and £111 for a secondary school parent. 
• Primary school Parents spend on average £132 on uniforms a year while Secondary school Parents are spending £210, on average.
• 68% of parents say that schools don’t do enough to keep the costs of schooling down.
• Increasing costs of new school uniforms (58%) is the biggest effect of the rising cost of living.
• 52% say increasing costs of food for children for school lunches have been a big effect of rising costs.
• Uniform/clothing is the top expense for secondary school parents (£210).
• 40% say they are forced to deny their children at least one back to school item.