Families 'struggle to buy school uniforms'
The cost of kitting out the kids as they go back to school is putting huge pressure on already cash-strapped families, according to a local charity.
The St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) said many parents forking out for new uniforms were struggling to afford basic necessities such as fuel and food.
The charity has also appealed for donations of second hand uniforms to its shops.
It coincides with a new report which suggests that families spend more on school uniforms in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK.
The American Express report indicated an average of £202 is spent by families here – £25 higher than the UK average of £177.
It also revealed that across the UK almost half (47%) of parents admit they feel the need to buy their children new items to keep up with other children, and 44% overspend their budget.
Aidan Crawford, president of SVP Northern Ireland, said: "With family budgets stretched even tighter due to continuous challenging employment conditions and rising costs in terms of food and utilities, the added expense of kitting out children for school can be beyond the means of many.
"We are finding that more and more families are coming to SVP across Northern Ireland for help at this time of year.
"The rising cost of uniforms, books, PE kits and stationery, for example, forces families into serious problems affording basic necessities such as fuel or food."
Ruairi Murray, SVP shops co-ordinator, said more and more families were specifically asking if they had school uniforms.
"The cost of a basic secondary or grammar school uniform and PE kit can be daunting, in most cases costing more than £200," he said.
"This is a challenging amount for some families, particularly those with more than one child who simply don't have money like this available.
"It adds huge pressure to those who may already be struggling to meet bills.
"However, the same uniform items in our shops would be a fraction of the price and in very good condition.
"In light of this increasing demand for uniform items, we are calling for the public to help by donating previously used uniform pieces which are still in good condition to any of our charity shops across Northern Ireland at any time of the year.
"Just call in with outgrown items or even school equipment that is no longer needed and this could alleviate some of the pressures on another family.
"All donations are gratefully received and funds raised go back into supporting the work of SVP across local areas."
Anyone struggling to make ends meet is advised to call the St Vincent de Paul regional office on 028 9075 1561 to see if practical help can be provided.
Grants to help with buying school uniforms for certain categories of pupils are available from education and library boards.
The eligibility criteria for the Clothing Allowance Scheme are similar to those used for free school meals.
The grants range from £22 for a post-primary or special school PE kit to £56 for a post-primary or special school pupil aged over 15.