Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil that the cost-of-living crisis could last for years.
Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, Mr Varadkar said that the issue was something people would be “grappling with for months, if not years, ahead”.
He added that what he termed the “global inflation crisis” would not end as a result of “any budget, whether it is an emergency budget before the autumn, or whether it is one in autumn”.
He was responding to Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty, who said that many parents are feeling a “sense of dread” over back-to-school costs.
Mr Doherty outlined to the Dáil the case of one mother based in Cork, who said she was terrified over back-to-school costs amounting to €1,700.
“No parent should dread their child’s return to school but that’s happening in so many households,” he said.
Mr Doherty called for the Government to bring forward an emergency budget, saying it was simply wrong that parents were facing such stress and anxiety over increasing costs.
The “grim reality” is that some parents are buying pyjamas for their children to wear in the daytime, as that is all they can afford, he added.
The Tánaiste responded saying that “everyone is feeling the squeeze”, as inflation was an issue all around the world, adding that “there is only so much any government can do”.
Mr Varadkar acknowledged that some of the more vulnerable “are having to make very difficult decisions”.
He said the Government had “acted already” in addressing the crisis.
“We’ve effectively had a mini-budget, or an emergency budget, already, €1.4 billion in measures since the budget. Reducing excise on petrol and diesel, reducing VAT on electricity and gas, a further fuel allowance payment,” he said.
“A lot done already… more planned in the autumn in and around the budget. We want a set of actions that will take effect almost immediately in the days and weeks after budget day to help people through the winter,” he added.
Also speaking in the Dáil, Independent TD Mattie McGrath accused the Government of being “completely detached from reality and self-absorbed” in its approach to the cost-of-living crisis.
Detailing how far above the EU average costs in Ireland are, according to a recent Eurostat report, he said that the Government had failed to address the crisis which is “financially crippling” the most vulnerable.
It threatens to “wipe out many vibrant farms”, he said, highlighting excise duty on fuel, and likening the actions of the Government to those of the British government during the Famine.
“To hell with the daoine beaga – to hell with the little people”, Mr McGrath said.
Mr Varadkar responded that the Eurostat report does show high costs in Ireland, but it needs to be read in the knowledge that salaries and wages in Ireland are higher than the EU average, and this “has been missed” in analysis of the report.
“It’s half the story”, he said. “High wages are tied to high costs.”
“This is going to be an ongoing cost-of-living crisis”, he added.
Plea for extra measures to cut back-to-school costs
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, said his party is launching a package of measures to ensure families get a much-needed break from the cost of living crisis by cutting spiralling back-to-school costs.
The measures would be delivered through an additional investment of €161 million.
Mr Ó Laoghaire said: “We would deliver the Back to School allowance to 500,000 additional children. We would also increase the Back To School allowance by 50% for those who already get it.
“This would increase supports from €160 to €240 for parents with a child aged 4-11 and from €285 to €427.50 for children from the age of 12 up.
“Sinn Féin would also work towards a fully free schoolbook scheme for children.
“We also set out how we would eliminate fees in the school transport system on a phased basis and provide seats for an additional 10,000 children.”
Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríodáin called on the Government to provide a commitment to working families before the summer recess that significant back to school measures will be implemented.
He said: “School costs are extortionate in this country and my office is already inundated with representations from hard working and very concerned parents about how they will provide for books and uniforms for their children in September.
“It’s time for the State to take the lead and provide school books to all children. This would make a huge difference to working families who are trying to do their best in excruciating economic circumstances.
“We estimate the annual cost of this would be €40 million across our entire school system.”
Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers said 120,000 families will be getting the back to school clothing and footwear allowance in the week beginning 11 July.
“That is €160 for children aged 4 to 11 and €285 for children 12 and upwards – and there will be additional payments after that.”
She told RTÉ’s Drivetime that school transport fees for the 2022/2023 year would be capped at €150 for primary level children (down from €220) and €500 for secondary students (down from €650).
Senator Chambers said a pilot free book scheme is operating in 102 Deis schools around the country.
She said “everything” should be on the table in the run-up to Budget 2023.
John Boyle, General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, said primary schools are looking for a 20% increase in the capitation grant in the Budget.
Primary schools at present receive a capitation grant of €1 per pupil per school day to cover their running costs and he said this is not enough to meet escalating energy and insurance costs.
A survey carried out pre-pandemic by the Catholic Primary School Management Association found that parents were subsidising primary school education by €46 million a year to try and make up the shortfall.
“We cannot even afford to heat or clean a classroom in Ireland, never mind provide free books to the children.”
Mr Boyle said some Government measures, such as allowing people €200 off their energy bills, did not apply to schools. “This needs to be address in the Budget.”