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08 February 2018

Northern Ireland Parents Express Extreme Concerns Over Budget Balancing Proposal for the Removal of Free Home to School Transport

3 out of 4 (72%) of parents in NI would not support the removal of free home-to-school travel


A new survey of almost 1,000 parents by Ni4kids has revealed that 86% of parents who currently receive free home to school travel say they are either very concerned or extremely concerned about how they would meet the additional financial cost if free home to school travel is abolished.

In December, in the absence of Ministers and a working Executive, the Department of Finance took the unusual step of publishing information about the broad choices available for balancing the Budget to help inform decisions to be taken by an incoming Executive. Although no decisions have been taken, as the strategic choices are for Ministers to decide, one of the suggested options is the removal, or means testing, of free home to school transport. Means testing could include restricting eligibility only to those in receipt of free school meals, Universal Credit or to those pupils with special educational needs, resulting in approximately 43,000 NI schoolchildren being charged for home to school travel should Ministers approve the proposal.

As Northern Ireland’s largest distributed lifestyle magazine and resource for families with children aged 0-15, Ni4kids carried out the survey in the belief that most local parents are not only completely unaware that free to home to school transport is being targeted as a Budget balancing proposal, and that it would have such a huge financial impact on families – particularly in rural communities – that parents deserved to have their views on the issue heard.

The results of the Ni4kids survey confirmed that 3 out of 4 parents here (77%) were completely unware of the cost-saving proposal and almost the same number of all parents, even if they did not receive free home to school transport, 72%, would be completely against it. Means testing was not a popular idea either with 57% of those questioned saying they would not support means testing eligibility either.

Highlighting the financial concerns already facing families, almost half (46%) of respondents say they are already either very concerned or extremely concerned about the financial burden of providing (often compulsory) education extras for their children’s education including; school uniform, PE kits, school trips, equipment, text books and school activities, and almost half of respondents (48%) said they believed that today’s parents receive less assistance with their children’s education than when they were a child.

The most popular options that the survey results showed parents would support above the removal of free home to school transport were the introduction of prescription charges (38%) and the introduction of NI Civil Service staff car parking (36%).

Worryingly, 44% of those questioned said that the additional cost of having to pay for their child’s home to school transport would, or possibly could, have an impact on their child’s attendance at school.

Other concerns highlighted by parents was the inevitable increased amount of traffic around schools, and on the roads, as more and more parents would opt to drive their children to school, rather than pay for public transport.

Nadia Duncan, editor of Ni4kids said: “All too often the people who are impacted the most by these decisions don’t have their opinions heard until it is too late and the wheels are in motion. While we are all aware of the current financial constraints, we felt it was extremely important to help local parents voice their concerns and reveal the massive impact this could have on already very tightly squeezed family budgets.

“Working parents already face significant childcare costs – Northern Ireland currently offers the least amount of free childcare of anywhere in the UK – the recent cuts to school budgets have also already significantly impacted on parents who are being asked to contribute more financially to their child’s school to provide even basic supplies for classrooms, and this proposal – if it should go ahead – will be yet another financial blow in the pocket to working families trying to raise children, particularly in rural communities. In the past, there have been many missed opportunities to cut costs in education, which were not taken, and now we are in the position that the burden is potentially just going to be passed on to families, who are really going to suffer as a result.

“From an environmental point of view also, surely this move will only increase traffic congestion around schools, at a time also when many now no longer have a school crossing supervisor. We will be forcing more parents into cars, at the busiest time of the day, for the school run and that should be a safety concern for everyone.”

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