Requests for help from families struggling as the school term returns have climbed by a fifth, a leading charity has revealed.

With almost a million children return to primary and secondary classrooms this week, St Vincent de Paul (SVP) said that it is being contacted by 30 people an hour looking for support.

This is a substantial rise on the volume of calls it received at this time last year.

The charity said that almost half the requests it is receiving for help come from one-parent families.

There were almost 450 calls on a single day earlier this month, it added, with many parents and guardians expressing the guilt and pressure of feeling like they weren't doing best for their children.

State benefits given to families, including the Back-to-School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, are temporary, the SVP noted, and said that they fall far short of meeting the needs of families struggling with school costs.

One caller revealed that, "The back-to-school allowance didn't even cover the cost of his books this year. I still have copies, shoes, school bags and uniforms left to buy and that's without doing the shopping and covering all of our bills."

Another shared that they were still waiting to hear if they qualified for the allowance.

The charity's vice-president Rose McGowan said that many parents and guardians felt they are failing their children by not being able to cover the increasing costs at back-to-school time.

The charity is calling on the Government to take immediate steps to help struggling families, including extending free schoolbooks to all students in primary and secondary education, a measure that it has calculated would cost €40m.