18 March 2024

Canberra charity 'not surprised' struggling families have already accessed $1.5m of Education Equity Fund

| Claire Fenwicke
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Vinnies volunteers packing food hampers

St Vincent’s de Paul Canberra/Goulburn has referred more than 100 families to the Education Equity Fund, but says more support’s needed for food banks during the cost of living crisis. Photo: Facebook.

It’s been touted as a “milestone”: $1.5 million of the ACT Government’s Education Equity Fund has already been accessed by Canberra families in the first six weeks of the school term.

But those at St Vincent’s de Paul Canberra/Goulburn are not surprised and have urged the government to do more as cost of living pressures continue to hurt many in the Territory.

Emergency Relief Helpline coordinator Kati Reeves said she was “not surprised” by the numbers, as both the phone line and local volunteer members had referred more than 100 families to the fund in the first two months of the year.

“We have received many calls from Canberra families asking for support for basic school necessities like uniforms, book packs, shoes etc,” she said.

“Many struggle to afford book packs, transportation for school, or even daily meals, let alone extra activities like swimming or piano classes for their kids. Initiatives like this can help families from making impossible choices like putting food on the table or buying uniforms.”

About $2.9 million was available in the kitty to support low-income families with education expenses when applications for the fund were opened at the start of the school year, earlier than previous years.

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So far 2591 students from 1225 Canberra families have been supported through the scheme.

Eligible families can receive the Equity Fund once a year for each student enrolled in an ACT school.

Education Minister Yvette Berry attributed the large number of people helped in part to the earlier opening date.

“The increased number of applications in the opening weeks of the fund is likely due to increased awareness about the Equity Fund, communication with previous recipients, and challenges that families are facing associated with rising costs of living in our community,” she said.

“With increased cost of living pressures across the country right now, I know the Future of Education Equity Fund is making a difference for those families who need it most.

“The Education Equity Fund is there for parents and carers to hopefully take a bit of that pressure off … We want to make sure all of our students have an equal chance to fully engage in their education.”

Given Vinnies has been receiving calls for help since the start of the year, demand is growing to open applications even earlier so families can get prepared.

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Some have also suggested the government could be doing even more to ease the pressures felt by Canberra families.

Vinnies Social Justice and Policy coordinator Kwadwo Owusu said food support in particular was an area which needed more help.

“Our Blue Door Drop-in Centre in Ainslie Village and Roadhouse program in Civic have seen increased numbers,” he said.

“Providing more support for food banks across the ACT would bring relief to many individuals and families feeling the brunt of the cost of living crisis.”

Other suggestions include expanding the reach of energy efficiency programs and more funding to increase the support provided by homelessness and other frontline services which help manage the effects of the cost of living crisis on Canberrans.

Cost of living is shaping up to be a hot topic for this year’s election campaigns.

The Canberra Liberals have already announced a $65 million cost of living package if they were to win the election.

Applications for the Education Equity Fund are open until 29 November.

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