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ILCU Back to School research shows that costs are a burden for 62% of parents in ROI

Posted on: 10 Jul 2024

More than 1 in 4 parents in debt to cover back to school costs and almost one third of parents (who are in debt), are in debt of over €500

Almost half (46%) of parents of school children who are struggling to manage costs say they’ve cancelled or reduced non-essential service or activities to cover rising costs and almost 1 in 4 are trying to earn additional income


The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) has published the 2024 results of its annual 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, 716 parents responded to the survey.

The 2024 research has found that 62% of parents say that covering the cost of back to school is a financial burden, a decline of 10% on the 2023 figure of 72%.

The total Back to School spend in 2024 stands at €1,086 per child for primary school parents and €1,401 per child for secondary school parents. The findings show €113 of an increase for Secondary school parents compared to 2023, but a €66 drop in spend for Primary School parents. With the welcome introduction of the Free School Books scheme commencing for the 2023/24 academic year for primary schools, and an increase in those offering the Hot Meals scheme, it’s unsurprising that parents with primary school children have felt less of a financial burden.

Commenting on the 2024 findings, David Malone, CEO, Irish League of Credit Unions said; “This year’s back to school survey findings are very insightful as they show that Government initiatives such as the Free School Books scheme do seem to have eased the financial burden for some families. However, there is a still an onerous cost burden on parents with increasing levels of associated debt linked to schooling and the cost of living.

“The 2024 research shows that 28%, more than 1 in 4, of parents are taking on debt to cover back to school costs, with the average debt amount at €368, which is an increase of €62 on the same figure last year. The issue of debt is significant, and it should be noted that 32% of parents in debt have debts of over €500 to cover these costs.

“For back-to-school supplies, while many use income or savings, 19% of parents use a credit card. Interest is applied to the full remaining balance with the rates being charged here ranging from 14% to over 25%. In addition, if you miss your minimum payment, debt can accumulate.”

Mr Malone continued, “These costs and increasing levels of debt have a knock-on effect as our 2024 research shows that 46%, almost half, of parents of school children who’ve been affected by the Cost of Living since the start of 2024 say they’ve cancelled or reduced non-essential service or activities to cover rising costs, and 23% are trying to earn additional income. Added to this, our research found that 86% of parents with schoolchildren say their income or household costs have been affected by rising costs of living, with 91% of those affected experiencing additional grocery costs and 89% seeing additional costs to utility bills.

“Overall, we want parents of both primary and secondary students to know credit unions are here to help plan out and manage these expenses. As not-for-profit organisations, established in communities all across Ireland, we understand the impact of these important costs on households, and we would encourage anyone who has concerns to talk to their local credit union.”

The 2024 research also yielded the following insights:

  • More than half (53%) of parents feel pressured to buy branded clothing, footwear, and other items for their children, up 11% from 2021.

  • Increasing costs of food for children for school lunches (56%) is the biggest effect of the rising cost of back to school costs, followed by increasing costs of new school uniforms (54%) and school trips or activities (52%,)

  • 2 in 3 (67%) of parents believe that schools don’t do enough to help keep the costs of going back to school down.

  • Family holidays (31%) are still the biggest sacrifice to cover back to school costs and 13% say they have to sacrifice spending on food to cover back to school costs.

  • More than 2 in 5 (42%) of parents say their children are enrolled in summer camps this year. Providing opportunities for social interaction, structured educational activities and development (75%) is the top reason for enrolling them. More than 1 in 4 (26%) say it’s for seeking summer childcare options.