Students ‘struggling to survive’ as loans fall short of soaring cost of living

"No amount of budgeting can help in this crisis when the money isn’t there in the first place", says NUS
Students are “struggling to survive” as government support fails to keep pace with the soaring cost of living, it is claimed.

Universities have raised concerns over the growing financial pressure that has forced many students to take on more paid work this year to try to meet the rocketing cost of living, fearing that their capacity for study could be affected.
One second-year student said she is working 20 hours a week despite the pressure it puts on her studies. But without this job, she said, she would not be able to afford to buy vegetables.
University students receive a maintenance loan for their living costs – including rent – which varies depending on household income.

Students living away from home can receive anything between £4,524 and £9,706 this year if they are outside London. In the capital, it’s between £6,308 and £12,677.

The loans being provided are around 2.3 per cent higher than last year – far below the 10 per cent inflation rate.

Hannah Nimmo, of the University of York’s student union, says she is concerned that students will “not be able to afford to sufficiently live” because of the cost of living crisis – especially with the additional costs that arise during the winter.

She says that the financial pressures affecting everybody – such as soaring energy bills and petrol costs – are compounded by maintenance loans not keeping pace with inflation.
“This is leaving students financially short, and as such, at risk of going cold by not turning on their central heating, or going hungry by skipping meals to cut down on their grocery shopping bills,” she says.
Chloe Field, from the National Union of Students (NUS), tells The Independent that students are “uniquely constrained” when it comes to improving their income. International students are only allowed to work 20 hours a week because of visa restrictions, while British students still have to balance any work they undertake with their studies.

“We are often in the most precarious of jobs, and holding down two or three of them to make ends meet, but everyone is coming to realise that no amount of budgeting can help in this crisis when the money isn’t there in the first place,” she says.
Field, who is the NUS vice-president for higher education, adds: “Students are our future doctors, teachers and nurses, but right now so many are struggling to simply survive, never mind thrive, in their education.”
Jess Rafferty, a second-year student at the University of Lancaster, is having to juggle a law degree with working 20 hours a week in Matalan. “It’s just so tiring. I basically work any time that I can when I’m not in university,” she tells The Independent.

The 19-year-old says that this does not give her enough time to study. As well as the time spent at work, it is a two-hour commute each way.

She sometimes gets back late with no time to prepare for the next day, and has to quickly rush the work in between lectures. But even so, she needs the job. “I’m actually able to afford vegetables because I work,” she says.

Masters student Tana Randle is balancing three different jobs to try to get by. The hours vary. “I can’t guarantee that every month I am going to be making enough,” the 21-year-old, who is estranged from her family, says.
The student at Royal Holloway, University of London, says she would like to have more time to focus on her studies. Instead, she just has to “hodgepodge” any spare hour between work, lectures and commuting.

“I’ll get home from work at 10.30pm, and I’ve not had a chance that day to do any work. I’ll be up until midnight just making sure I’ve got my seminar preparation done. And then it’s off again at 7am the next morning to go to work.”

Professor Tracy Bhamra, the deputy vice-principal at Royal Holloway, said the university had been “working hard” to support students through the cost of living crisis, including doubling the budget for its hardship grant.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Lancaster University said the university offers a range of financial support and hardship packages to support students, including emergency financial aid for those in immediate difficulties.

Newcastle University told The Independent it had heard anecdotally that students were taking on more hours in paid work this year to meet the cost of living. As a result, it has expanded opportunities on campus to work.
Earlier this month, analysis found that around 300,000 students would be gravely affected by the cost of living crisis without further support.

Sophie Mattholie, a 19-year-old studying at York University, says her houseshare has put off turning on the heating in an effort to save money – despite the potential for negative health effects.

“Two of us have joint issues that are worsened by the cold,” she says. “It’s about how long we can stand to have it off, because it’s just so expensive.”

A spokesperson for Universities UK (UUK) said the institutions recognise that these are “clearly difficult times” for students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, with caring responsibilities, or who are estranged from their families.

A Russell Group spokesperson said its universities are “concerned about growing financial pressures on students, and the impact this will have on their studies and wider mental health and wellbeing”.

Both groups said their members were stepping up support for students, including offering financial aid for those who are struggling. UUK said that more support for students’ wellbeing and mental health was being made available.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said it had increased maintenance loans every year to support students with living costs, with disadvantaged students now having access to “the highest ever amounts in cash terms”.

They said that students worried about making ends meet should contact their university about the support available. Universities can boost hardship funds by drawing on up to £261m made available through the Office for Students, they added.

A University of York spokesperson said: “We’re really sorry to hear about these experiences and we’d encourage students to get in touch to see what more support is available.”

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