Back-to-school cost pain

PARENTS across Wyndham are struggling to meet the costs of sending their children back to school, with welfare organisations inundated with calls for help.

Families worried about children attending school with ill-fitting uniforms or no books have reached out to Uniting Care Werribee Support and Housing and the Smith Family.

Smith Family team leader Fiona Stuart said the organisation offered parents no interest loans and financial assistance to its Learning for Life program recipients. The program supports disadvantaged children and young people all the way through their education.

Ms Stuart said 50 per cent of inquiries about no interest loans were from people needing help to cover school costs.

Werribee Support and Housing chief executive Carol Muir said she was concerned by the number of families contacting the organisation’s crisis counselling team. She said the cost of sending a child to a state primary school was about $800 a year, which covered fees, books, uniforms and excursions. Some schools also require parents to buy iPads or laptops, costing between $300-$700, for use at home and school.

The organisation had dealt with an increase in parents looking for financial help since parenting payment changes were announced in the last federal budget. Under the changes, single parents are transferred to the Newstart allowance once their youngest child turns eight, leaving them about $150 a fortnight worse off.

Single mum, Jane, not her real name, reached out to Werribee Support and Housing when her Centrelink payments were last month reduced from $1140 a fortnight to $970, from which she pays $570 rent, $100 in utilities, $85 in car costs, $30 for her phone and $2000 on food.

“Jane is in debt of $15 a fortnight at this point, not including the residual of $15 a fortnight of school costs, pharmaceuticals, clothing and footwear for herself and her child,” Ms Muir said.

“The costs are even higher for secondary school students. Agency workers are distressed and agonise how families such as Jane’s attempt to cope with everyday living.”

Children whose parents could not cover school costs were often excluded from attending school or taking part in activities. “In some schools they can’t attend without the proper uniforms. They also often miss out on camps and don’t get the same chances as everyone else,” Ms Smart said.

For help, call the Smith Family’s Werribee office on 9749 8375 or Werribee Support and Housing on 9742 6452.