Head in hands

1 March 2016

Cathy’s stomach does a nervous flip when she reads her son’s school stationery list. She then looks at her daughter’s college list, and puts her head in her hands in despair.

Cathy is not alone. According to Family Works social workers throughout Otago, the majority of their clients hit the wall financially, emotionally and mentally at this time of year.

“Usually the costs associated with Christmas are still being dealt with when the reality hits that school expenses also have to be faced,” says Family Works Social Work Supervisor Deb Gelling.

“If you look at state school fees, uniforms, stationery, camp and sport’s costs ranging from about $1800* for primary and over $3000* for secondary students annually, you can soon see why parents despair. Now we have schools requiring each student to have their own laptop, and they’re not cheap.”

Family Works’ Central Otago Practice Manager Rachel McAnally agrees.

“No matter what their income is, parents want the very best for their children, but for those on low incomes it’s accompanied by high stress levels too. In rural Otago, parents have to add the cost of transport into the mix, not just for school but for sport and cultural events as well,” she adds.

“Sport, culture and camp fees should not be seen as luxuries because they help create healthy, engaged children who learn the values of teamwork, responsibility and positive behaviour. But unfortunately, for many parents, they are luxuries because to fund them is at the expense of food on the table.”

Families on benefits may be able to borrow funds from Work and Income New Zealand, but borrowing means paying the loan back, and that itself creates on-going problems, according to social workers.

“This time of year is especially stressful for parents on minimum wages who are not eligible for WINZ support,” says Deb Gelling. “The inability to fund school activities weighs heavily on families, and that can lead to emotional stress, depression or even violence, which affects every member of the family.

“It can take clients a few months of drip-feeding to clear school accounts, so by providing them with budgeting advice and food parcels we make a positive impact on the situation,” she adds.

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* (Source ASG Education Cost Estimates 2015)