Social Justice

NUS warns 'no amount of budgeting' will stop university students falling into poverty

The student union said government cost of living support was not designed with students in mind and called for more maintenance support.

As young people across the UK prepare to head to university, the National Union of Students (NUS) has warned many are struggling to afford living and learning costs – and warned many will be living in poverty this autumn.

A students cost of living survey, conducted by the NUS in June, found a third had less than £50 a month left after paying rent and bills and one in 10 reported using food banks. 

In addition to escalating energy costs, students are also paying higher prices for accommodation. According to the NUS’s most recent accommodation costs survey with Unipol, the average student rent has risen 61 per cent in the last 10 years – higher than house prices in the same period. At £6,227 a year, the average cost of university accommodation alone exceeds the average student maintenance loan of £5,640.

The NUS also warned that with universities unable to guarantee accommodation, students could be forced into the more expensive private rental sector, where rent averages £8,002 per year. 

Many students rely on support from family and friends – 53 per cent rely on them financially and 40 per cent have reached out to family and friends for loans. However, one third of students have said the cost of living crisis has impacted those who support them. Many students are relying on credit to make ends meet: one third use credit cards, 24 per cent use buy now, pay later schemes, and 12 per cent have taken out bank loans.

Many universities provide hardship funds for students in need, but not every student will meet the criteria for this funding. And while money-saving tips might provide some temporary relief, an NUS spokesperson said: “As energy bills and inflation continue to soar, we fear that no amount of budgeting and saving is going to stop students falling into poverty this autumn.”

“The effects of the cost of living rise include having to rely on other people for housing, couch surfing, relying on others for meals, skipping meals, not buying items I need, skipping showers and not using heating. It’s despairing,” said one student at Belfast Metropolitan College.  

The NUS also warned current government plans to support people with the cost of living might not reach students, and called for a plan specifically tailored to students.  

“Students faced a postcode lottery for council tax rebates and could miss out on energy bill reductions if they live in bills-included accommodation. In addition, full-time students can’t access universal vredit through which significant support is being delivered. The government has clearly not designed these schemes with students in mind.

“To tackle this crisis ministers need to urgently and dramatically increase the level of maintenance support on offer to students, bring back non-repayable grants, and step in to take control of soaring rent, energy and transport costs.”

Read our piece on why energy bills are so expensive, and where to get help.

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