The Sinn Féin Leader has urged the Government to "take the next step" and to extend the back-to-school allowance to another half a million children.

Mary Lou McDonald said a substantial number of families and children have been left behind.

She told the Dáil that families with a modest weekly income of €621 are excluded from this allowance.

Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath said Government had intervened yesterday to help families facing financial pressures at this time of year.

September would have been too late for these increases to the allowances along with the waiving of school transport fees, he said.

Minister McGrath described the move as targeted and aimed at those who need it most.

And he said that 60,000 more children would get a hot meal in schools from September.

He said the Government has adopted a coherent strategy and would do more in the Budget in September.

Calls for free school books scheme

Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik has called for the Government to introduce a free school books scheme as operated in Northern Ireland.

She said that while there were "welcome" concessions on back-to-school costs from Government last night there needed to be reform of the "outdated" school transport scheme.

She said the Government's move to bring forward the Budget was "just a token exercise" as the announcement had only been brought forward by two weeks.

In response Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath said that the expansion of the Deis schools scheme announced last night would mean that 60,000 more children would get a free hot meal.

He added this represented "real change".

He said if families were in real difficulty due to escalating costs they could reach out to the Department of Social Protection and the Government had signalled that people should be dealt with "sympathetically".

Additional reporting David Murphy