Average price of uniforms now £826 pushing 38% into debt
More than seven in 10 parents surveyed in Northern Ireland say the cost of school uniforms and equipment is hitting their finances heavily — 10% more than in 2021.
A new survey from the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) indicates that more parents than ever (72%) are saying back to school costs are a financial burden they can ill afford.
Parents are now spending an average of £826 for every secondary school child and £756 for those at primary school.
The number of parents getting into debt to send their children to school has also risen, now at 38% compared to 34% in 2021 — with an average debt of £246.
Naomi McBurney from the Parent Engagement Group, which has been campaigning on school costs, said the survey is yet another example of the pressures facing parents.
“This paints a bleak picture of the reality facing families across Northern Ireland as they prepare for the school uniform spend,” she said.
“Years of inaction by the Department of Education has allowed prices to rise unchecked which has resulted in unnecessary financial pressures to afford excessively priced school uniforms. It is a sad fact that the excessive cost of school uniforms is causing a barrier to education for many children.”
Alliance MLA Nick Mathison last week unveiled plans for a private member’s Bill on school uniform pricing.
“With energy and food prices soaring, households in my community who may have just been managing before, cannot now afford the essentials such as paying electricity bills or putting food on the table,” he said.
“The pressures of paying for school uniforms for many families adds to their financial stress. I’m committed to tackling this issue and would urge the Department of Education to step up and legislate for a cap on school uniform costs as soon as possible.
“I have not heard any proposals from them in this regard and I plan to bring forward a Private Member’s Bill as soon as possible on this issue, to ensure there is fairness and equality in school uniform pricing.”
Ms McBurney said many families would benefit from the introduction of legislation that sets a price cap that is affordable for all.
“Children, young people and parents need to be protected,” she added. “We would urge all Boards of Governors to reconsider what they are asking of parents and ensure they are being realistic with their school uniform policies.”
Other worrying statistics from the ILCU revealed that a third of parents said they will be forced to deny children certain back to school items and the number cutting back on extracurricular activities has almost doubled to 74% from 38% last year.
Half of parents surveyed (49%) said they are sacrificing a family holiday to cover back to school costs — up from 33% in 2021 — with 72% of parents saying schools don’t do enough to keep costs down.
More parents of secondary school children are finding costs a struggle — 76%, compared to 71% of parents at primary level.
The most expensive item for primary and secondary pupils is still school uniforms, at £122 and £173 respectively.
School lunches, while slightly cheaper than last year, are averaging £100 for primary and secondary pupils.
The costs of books, transport, 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.
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 lunches (53%) and travel to and from school (44%).
The survey also looked at the rising costs of living in general. Some 89% of respondents said their income or household costs have been affected since the start of the year.
Almost half (48%) of NI parents said 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. Almost three quarters (73%) said they are cancelling or reducing non-essential services and activities such as gym membership and subscription TV packages.
Other options include taking a personal loan (17%), borrowing from family or friends (23%), or seeking debt and budgeting advice (23%).