UK students skipping meals because of cost of living crisis

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Students are skipping meals and relying on hardship funds and family support because of the cost of living crisis, with one in four saying they are in danger of dropping out of university, according to a survey.

Research carried out this month for the Sutton Trust found nearly a quarter of the 1,000 UK students interviewed said they were “less likely” to be able to complete their degree because of cost pressures, while one in three said they were cutting down on food to save money.

While nearly half of students have approached their families for extra help, many of those from disadvantaged or poorer backgrounds said they were less likely or unable to do so.

One student, currently studying in England, said in an interview they were only eating two meals a day, spending less on food shopping and working part-time to pay their bills, despite receiving a full maintenance loan and bursary from their university.

“The cost of living crisis is making me worried and stressed as I’ve now had to sacrifice my study time to get a job to support my financial needs.

“Balancing all-day university clinical placements and working is impacting my academics. I come from a low-income household so I haven’t got the ability to ask my family for financial support,” the student said.

Another student, from the south-west of England, said they had approached their university for hardship funds: “I found the process of applying for the funds quite long-winded – the application required several months of bank statements, as well as letters from student finance, as evidence of my entitlement.

“From there, I had to wait almost a month for a response. I was fortunate to receive some money, however it’s not a system I could trust if I needed support in an emergency.”

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“Now more than ever, I feel that the government are expecting parents and families to help support students and young people. This is not an option for me.”

Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Sutton Trust, which campaigns to improve social mobility through education, said it was “scandalous” that students are skipping meals and cutting back on essentials.

“To make sure that students can afford to fully take part in their course and wider university life, the Sutton Trust is calling for the government to urgently review the amount of funding and support available to students,” Lampl said.

Students in England will receive an increase of just 2.8% in their maintenance loans if they continue studying in September, raising the average loan by around £200. The Welsh government has said it will increase maintenance loans and grants for its students by more than 9%.

A spokesperson for England’s Department for Education said: “We recognise students continue to face financial challenges, which is why we are increasing loans and grants for living and other costs for a further year.

“To support universities to top up their own hardship funds we are also making an additional £15m available. This will bring the total available to universities to draw on in supporting their students in hardship to £276m this academic year.”

But the Sutton Trust noted that £41m of the £276m was reserved for the disabled students’ pupil premium, with the remainder designated “to support successful student outcomes,” such as widening participation and outreach activities, making it unlikely to be used for hardship funds.

The additional £15m amounts to just £67 for each undergraduate from the most deprived parts of England, according to the trust’s analysis.

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