The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) has recently published the results of its annual School Costs survey, tracking the costs and impacts of children returning to school in Northern Ireland. 530 parents from across Northern Ireland responded to the survey, which was conducted by i-Reach Insights during June.

78% of parents say that covering the costs of back to school is a financial burden compared to 72% in 2022. Parents are spending £837 per primary school child, £81 more than last year (2022: £756) and £989 per secondary school child, a whopping £163 more than in 2022 (£826).

Commenting on the findings, Mr Martin Fisher, ILCU NI Manager said; “Our 2023 survey shows that parents continue to feel a considerable financial burden educating their children as costs continue to rise. Given the cost-of-living crisis, this is no surprise. However, it is extremely concerning that 20% of parents say they sacrifice spending on food to cover these costs. We know that the cutting of the ‘holiday hunger’ payment is leaving many disadvantaged children vulnerable. No child should have to go hungry in Northern Ireland in 2023. The credit union actively supports its members with cost-of-living loans, and I would say any parent who is stretched and facing hunger poverty to go to your local credit union and see how they can help you”.

Mr Fisher said; “Unlike banks who are focused on profits for shareholders, credit unions exist to provide financial support to their members and are answerable to them. Anyone can join a credit union, and access loans at fair rates of interest, to help cover the costs of getting the kids kitted out for school. The survey has highlighted a reliance on credit cards (23% of respondents) to cover back-to-school costs. If you cannot pay off your credit card in full when it falls due, it can become a very expensive form of finance. A back-to-school loan from a credit union is a flexible and affordable option for any family.”

School uniforms are the top expense for both primary and secondary school parents, followed by school lunches, extra-curricular activities, transport costs and books. 41% of parents are getting into debt to cover these costs, with an average debt of £245. 12% of parents have debts of over £500.

Mr Fisher said: “There has been a small increase in the number of parents getting into debt compared to last year (41% in 2023 v 38% in 2022) which is unwelcome. Thankfully, the message on getting a credit union loan rather than using money lenders for help with back-to-school expenses seems to be getting through. For back-to-school supplies, 6% will seek a credit union or bank loan and only 1% said they would go to a moneylender. This is the type of community need which Credit Unions meet every day”.

Mr Fisher added that 96% of respondents said they had been affected by cost-of-living increases since the start of 2023 with 40% trying to earn additional income to cover these rising costs, 56% cancelling non-essential activities (gym, tv packages, etc) and 25% seeking loans.

Increased household costs over the summer holidays are also adding to financial pressures. More than 1 in 2 parents (54%) say having children home over the holidays will put them under added financial pressure. Grocery bills (75%) and utility bills (64%) are the top financial pressures for these parents.