New survey warns of looming mental health emergency as sector struggles to cope
New research by the National Union of Students has found 96% are cutting back as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, with over half skipping meals as they can’t afford to eat.
A survey of 3,500 UK students revealed more than one in 10 is using food banks, and an increasing number are turning to savings, credit cards and bank loans.
The survey said the crisis was having a devastating impact on wellbeing, with 92% reporting an impact on their mental health, 31% of whom described the effect as ‘major’.
Almost half (42%) are being forced to travel less or can’t make it to campus, 41% are neglecting their health and cancelling medical appointments, and one in five can’t afford to buy toiletries.
Students here face an even tougher financial headache.
In 2020/21 private providers charged local students an average of £6,698 for accommodation, which is higher than the maximum student finance allowance.
Those in university accommodation were charged an average of £4,565 — 71% of the maximum student finance allowance.
The cost of accommodation leaves students here with an average of just £29.30 a week to live on.
While the survey paints a clear picture of students’ struggles, only 20% said they had received any sort of support from central or devolved government.
Just 8% thought their government was doing enough to support them.
Most students said the value of their maintenance package was not enough to afford the weekly shop, transport or energy bills.
The data also highlighted a cost-of-learning crisis, with 75% saying they would not be able to afford course materials without more support.
Five hundred apprentices also took part in the study.
Their minimum wage can be as low as £4.81 an hour.
Most said the wage will not be sufficient to cover the cost of living and accessing their education.
In the absence of adequate support, 83% of students have sought financial support by other means.
A third are using credit cards, 24% have signed up to buy now, pay later credit schemes, and 12% have taken out bank loans.
While 53% of students have turned to their families and friends for financial support and 40% have reached out to them for loans, a third say the crisis had impacted those who support them.
In addition, 11% were using food banks, up from 5% this January, reflecting the rapid increase in inflation in the first half of the year.
Among the students hardest hit are those with caring responsibilities, the disabled, those who are estranged from their families, and those from a low socio-economic background.
The NUS said: “Huge increases in the price of bills, food and living costs, coupled with soaring rent, has students on the brink.”
It urged the Government to provide more support.
“We’re hearing from students struggling to get by, who can’t afford to do their laundry and are cutting back on showers to make ends meet,” it said.
“They can’t even cover the cost of getting to the library or classes.
“This is having a severe impact on their mental health — being kept awake at night due to finances.
“We’re seeing stress and anxiety piling on them from bouncing debt between different cards to stay afloat.
“Despite all of this students are being completely ignored by the Government. These findings are bleak.
“We’re knee-deep in a cost-of-learning crisis that will affect the poorest students the hardest.
“We are calling on the UK Government to put in place a tailored cost-of-living support package for students as a matter of urgency.”
The organisation added: “We also need to ensure that the student maintenance package and the apprentice minimum wage are brought in line with the Living Wage.”