An article by Carl O’Brien in today’s Irish Times highlights the severe impacts of the recession on families. Almost 200,000 parents have applied for the Back to School allowance this year, an increase of over 120% since 2007. According to Department of Education and Skills, there were 864,000 students in full time first and second level education in 2010. If each parent who applied for the Allowance has the average family size of 1.9 children, this means that over 40% of children in first and second level education come from families experiencing financial difficulties. For example, a couple with one child, with a weekly household income of less than €563.60, will qualify for the allowance. This income is before expenses, so the increasing cost of food, housing and energy bills will create further difficulties for families already in need. There is a backlog in processing the applications for the allowance, in part because of the quantity of applications, but no doubt exacerbated by cutbacks in public service funding.

The everyday hardships of the economic crisis in Ireland sometimes get lost in discussions of the mesmerizing levels of national debt. This is a salutary reminder of the difficulties now faced by ordinary families, all across the country.

Mary Gilmartin

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