Skipping meals and accepting free food and second-hand goods from charities are how some low-income families scrimp and save to raise the money to send their children to local kindergartens, a study by an NGO has found ahead of the start of the new school year. The Society for Community Organisation sent out questionnaires to 65 grass-roots families between June and this month, and found the burden on parents with children attending kindergartens was especially heavy as many government subsidies only covered education at primary level or above. To save money, almost half of parents surveyed said they skipped meals, while 32 per cent said they obtained free food from food banks. About 18 per cent said they applied for second-hand goods from charities. Seven in 10 of the families surveyed earned between HK$5,000 and HK$14,000 a month, with about one-third on full or partial Comprehensive Social Security Assistance. About a quarter of the children in the families surveyed were not born in Hong Kong. Some 86 per cent of parents said their children's education was a financial burden. One parent, who declined to be named, said her daughter had missed many extracurricular activities because the family could not afford them. "I had to tell her that because we really couldn't afford it, she would not be going on the school outing," the parent said. The NGO, which has long worked with migrant families, urged the government to introduce universal free kindergarten education and extend the range of school expenses covered by subsidies to include things such as textbooks, uniforms, lunches and extracurricular activities. "If [the family] is not on CSSA, they get no subsidies for textbooks and miscellaneous expenses which often amount to HK$3,000 or HK$4,000 a year per child," said community organiser Sze Lai-shan. The NGO said all compulsory school activities should be free and the distribution of textbooks centralised with the government. Another study conducted by a pro-establishment political party and published yesterday echoed these demands. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong found 16 per cent of 319 parents who responded to its phone survey between July 12 and August 2 spent half of their family income that month on covering various costs related to their children's education.