Comment: The cost of sending children to boarding school is placing a big burden on rural employees, and it's well past time a change was made to make the boarding allowance system fairer, writes Federated Farmers policy adviser Ann Thompson.

Over the past few years Federated Farmers has made requests to both the National and Labour-led governments to increase the Access Barrier Boarding Allowance.

This allowance is provided for pupils who live so far away from school that boarding school is the only realistic option.

As at June 2019, the Access Barrier Boarding Allowance was $3200 per annum while the Multiple Barriers Boarding Allowance was $7500 (plus $500 for pastoral care).

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The Multiple Barriers Boarding Allowance is available for pupils for whom attending a Boarding School is necessary for a range of other reasons not associated with distance to the school.

Why is there this difference? Do students who live a long way from school eat less or play less sport or use fewer resources? Does it cost less to actually transport them to school at the beginning of the term?

Should the government be more sorry for those students who have so many difficulties at home or the local school that they have to shift to a boarding school, than those who have to leave the farm? And if so, does it merit giving less to those who live far away?

Read more from Federated Farmers here.

We say that there is no justification whatsoever for the two types of allowances not being the same and have been advocating for over a decade for the Access Barrier Boarding Allowance to be lifted to the same level as the Multiple Barriers Boarding Allowance, and both allowances to be inflation proofed.

Contrary to the Minister of Education's claims, the extra costs of parents sending their children to boarding school are the same regardless of whether it is due to isolation or other reasons.

In April 2019, Federated Farmers wrote to the Minister of Education noting that the Boarding Allowance budget for 2017/18 was underspent by about $2.15 million.

We said "the justification that the Access Boarding allowance cannot be increased due to budget constraints is clearly not accurate".

The Minister responded by refusing our request to equalise the allowances, stating - as he had before - that the Government may look at increasing the Access Boarding Allowance if funding allows.

 Federated Farmers Policy Advisor, Ann Thompson. Photo / Supplied
Federated Farmers Policy Advisor, Ann Thompson. Photo / Supplied

Well, Minister, the funding has been set aside and should be used for the purpose it was intended for.

The Access Boarding allowance has not been increased for 15 years, covering the terms of Labour and National and we have lobbied both sides on this issue.

In 2004, the Labour Government announced a significant increase to the Allowance stating that an eligibility review would be undertaken and the Allowance would be increased to keep them in line with increases in school boarding fees.

The eligibility review was undertaken but the promised increase to the Access Boarding Allowance never happened.

Our rural members and all those who live far from school deserve better than this.

The cost of sending children to boarding school is placing an even bigger burden on rural employees and is yet another barrier to the ability of farmers and other rural businesses to attract and retain quality employees.