There’s a cost of living crisis. Just not for students

On Wednesday further and higher education minister Michelle Donelan loyally took to Twitter to declare a need to focus on the cost of living crisis.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

So I was eagerly awaiting news in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s statement on measures that will address said crisis insofar as it’s impacting students.

The package included a £650 one-off Cost of Living Payment for those on means tested benefits – but that doesn’t include the vast majority of students. There’s also a one-off £300 Pensioner Cost of Living Payment, a £150 Disability Cost of Living Payment and a £500m top-up to the discretionary funding from local authorities. But most of that won’t go near students, and the previous £150 Council Tax rebate for households in England in Council Tax bands A-D didn’t either.

The one bit of good news is that households will get £400 of support with their energy bills through an expansion of the Energy Bills Support Scheme, something that those with second homes will benefit from too.

As usual, the Treasury claimed that around three-quarters of the total support will go to vulnerable households – but its distributional analysis of the impact of the measures on households in England relies as usual on underpinning figures that distort household incomes when it comes to students, as tuition fee loans are recorded as household income – making it look like a student HMO of five students are £50k better off than they really are.

There’s no need to go over again here the failure of the government to address maintenance at all in its Augar response, or the way in which official figures ignore or distort the student finance picture for students, or the ongoing and problematic issue of between basic living costs support being split between complex devolution and government department settlements, or the problem with participation that a student hardship crisis creates, or the weird silence on the issue of institutional financial support from the actual English access regulator.

Nor is there much of a need to explain why and how this is now becoming a full blown crisis. As well as tales of soaring student demand for foodbanks, the latest manifestation I’m hearing around the UK is a dearth of “bills inclusive” student housing in most university towns and cities, and even landlords who love locking students into rental contracts early now desperately trying to cancel such contracts. Yes, won’t somebody think of the landlords?

My puzzle for today is why. I spend quite a bit of time trying to convince people that the Conservatives and/or government aren’t evil, they just have different ways of thinking about the world, and that often in policymaking we should consider cock up rather than conspiracy.

But the relentless and consistent outright erasure of students as a (massive) group of citizens that are so obviously impacted by inflation and the cost of living crisis is really now stretching my attempts thin. I need some help here – especially from those who might know.

The changes to the repayment threshold alone this year means a huge saving – a small slice of which could be going to modestly increasing the maintenance loan or whatever.

So what’s going on? Is it thoughtlessness – the Treasury have just forgotten? Is this really about writing off a generation that won’t for them? Is there a mechanism issue, like a head scratch over whether the SLC could make another payment or something? Is it lazy assumptions about students being posh or kids supported by parents? Or is it a genuine and ideological assault – a direct attempt to impoverish and reduce the numbers at university (or at least worsen the quality of their participation)? I honestly don’t get it.

Because honestly? If someone said to me tomorrow “do they really just hate students”, I’m not sure I can coherently argue against any more.

8 responses to “There’s a cost of living crisis. Just not for students

  1. “…………….distort household incomes when it comes to students, as tuition fee loans are recorded as household income – making it look like a student HMO of five students are £50k better off than they really are.”

    Why shouldn’t the loans be recorded as “income”?

    It is fair to say that from a cash point of view, the students don’t get the cash to spend on goods and services. In this sense increased prices for rent and food will leave them worse off.

    But given that most students will never repay the misnamed “student loans”, students are not really paying anything for their undergraduate education. I am sure overburdened tax payers on low incomes, who are some of the people effectively paying for student tuition, could claim that they are among those for whom household incomes are distorted.

    As there now seem to be many opportunities for part time work for students, I will not be shedding too many tears.

  2. As one of the many in my cohort, I was made redundant during the lockdowns and so with no credible options locally other than minimum wage unsecure low-hour jobs and unable financially to relocate I took the brave leap to return to study in my 30’s instead of signing on for benefits. I chose nursing as it’s in high demand for jobs. I receive £10k a year as a maintenance loan that I will repay along with my course fees all which is already accruing interest that the gov will take repayments when I get my first job as they are lowering the threshold. So I will be over £60k in debt by the end of my degree and start repaying it on my first job. We do 40hrs a week unpaid placement for the NHS, which frankly they are so understaffed we receive little training (something many are actively protesting) and instead we do the work of health care assistants/auxiliaries. We are told by uni that we aren’t allowed to have a part time jobs as working over 40hrs, plus doing assignments etc causes us to be too tired and a danger to patients during our 12-14hrs shifts that are often at hospitals 1hr+ drive away (more for public transport). The nearest placement I have had is 45mins away, the petrol costs are astronomical for me, let alone the cost of keeping a car. We are expected to live off £10k a year (as a mature student, my parents are pensioners living far away), of which we can’t so of course we pick up part time jobs and struggle to stay awake while working and driving. Many have dropped out the course from health issues brought on by sheer exhaustion and inability to make ends meet. I don’t know if it’s bc of the pandemic but a large majority of student nurses are mature students in their late 20s+, a handful in their late 40s and 50s and finding it near impossible to survive. Ppl around me call me crazy for getting into such a large debt and physically ruining myself for a job that will only do more of the same, but like my fellow nursing students in a similar position to me, I want to have a career in nursing to help others I don’t want a useless degree. Everyone complains about the lack of nurses and having to hire foreigners for the NHS, but the lack of training and support and the public considering students as ‘freeloaders’ who accrue a debt they won’t repay is the reason we are struggling to train up many British nurses. I’ve always thought I was lucky to find my rental as bills inc, but the landlord will receive the gov bonus (rightly) while also informing me that my rent is to be drastically increase in a couple months. Between that and travel cost I’m facing having to drop out by the end of this year, unable to complete 3rd year, a decision I am devastated in more ways than one since all my exhaustion and starving myself for days at times to make ends meet only to be repaying a debt for 2 yrs of a degree I can’t finish due to finances. At least I have ample experience in other industries to scramble at a job higher than min-wage due to my age/exp but this is the state of nurse training.

  3. Agree so much with the nursing student above. It’s so frustrating that people assume students are all young, and paid for by their parents.

    My husband also returned to school at 30, we’ve struggled financially for 10 years now and made the decision to struggle a few more in hopes that things will get better. He’s just finishing his Masters. Thank god, because he would have had to drop out since there’s no way we could afford to go on this way after a couple more months.

    We have no “bank of mom and dad.” We won’t be getting the £150 because in Wales they don’t give it to class N houses. We won’t be getting the £650 because we don’t qualify for benefits between his studying and my immigration status. (no public funds in my name. I pay taxes and NI plus 450 a year extra for the NHS but that’s a whole other rant). I only make about 200-250 a week, and I’m on a 0 hour contract. I had to give up my better job because the commute got too expensive. He gets postgrad finance, and between us, we had exactly enough to live on (with nothing left for recreation etc.) until recently. Now there’s just no help for us. It’s unclear if we’ll be able to take advantage of the credit to our utility account as we have to move out of this house before then, and we were told that we have to show that the balance is paid off before we can have our deposit returned. We’re likely to have to live with family for a couple of months to get our lives in order.

    Honestly shocked that students werent considered… Or at the very least mature students without family support. Basically I’m holding my breath until August, when we won’t have enough for the last month of rent. If we’re lucky I’ll get my repayment for overpaid tax.

  4. I’m an engineering student in my early 20s, my student loan barely covers the cost of my rent. I had to pick up job where I often work past 3am to cover the cost of my bills which have doubled for next year, meaning I have less money to buy increasingly expensive food. the solution cannot be as simple as “work more”. I am exhausted and during term time I’m already having to leave lectures early to make the start of my shifts why should trying to survive take precedent over my education? that’s the whole reason I came here at all. my parents do not have the money to support me further and due to a number of recent tragedies in my family I would never ask them. the last week of every month I survive off one meal a day to stretch my budget.
    bottom line for me is, the rent has gone up, all my bills have gone up, the cost of food has gone up. but the support i get from the government hasn’t changed. after the treatment of students during the pandemic where we were scapegoated for the second wave that everyone saw coming and some students even being fenced into their halls; I cant help but find myself somewhat sceptical of the government’s attitude toward students. we came to university because that’s what we are told is required if we are to succeed and now our complaints are met with indifference or disinterest.

  5. Can someone please help!! Im a mature student living in my own home and going into 3rd year of my uni course. When I started uni I was working to support my studies but shortly after starting uni I became unwell and had to leave my employment as I couldnt manage both. I had to wait for complex surgery in addition to my disability. Having to leave work I was informed and misinformed regarding any financial assistance I could get on top of my living loan of £9000 meaning out of that £9000 I have to pay almost £7000 in rent, leaving £2000 for all other bills including food, water, energy etc. Now, you tell me who can live off that!!! I tried twice to apply for PIP – the most discriminatory system known to man. And despite disability and several other significant health issues was awarded 0 points and literally called a liar several times.
    I continued with uni as the pandemic hit and it was all online and flexible (which if I had done via Open University would have cost me half). I was in contact with Lindsay Hoyle (speaker of the house of commons and Chorley MP) but that didnt help either. It was only when I rang DWP in desperation to ask if there was anything I could claim as a disabled mature student, waiting for surgery with long recovery time. I was told I should have been awarded Contribution ESA as I have always worked – despite multiple illness and being a single mother for 27years.
    Fast forward to today, my student loan is swallowed up in rent and water bills. I live off £124 as im in support element ESA. I do not qualify for and Cost of Living allowances because I have contributed to the system and get Contribution ESA not income related. I can not get a socisl loan, housing benefit or universal credit because I am a student on Contribution ESA! I am in utter dispair and dont know how I am going to survive. Housining are in the process of evicting me because I can only pay rent when my student loan comes through. Not all students live in reduced cost/shared accomodation where all bills are included in the rent. But there is no extra support for those living off campus in higher rental properties that rent does not include bills. Someone has to help! If I was fit enough to work believe me I would!!

  6. Please contract your local CAB and disability network support as they can engage with the provider of your housing to make a payment play and also check what other benefits you are entitled to as it sounds like at the very least you are enetitled to Personal Indepedant payments.

  7. I am a student studying full time with the Open University. I work part time as a cleaner, earning around £5.7k pa. I live alone in my own home. While my course fees are paid I receive no additional financial support. OU students cannot apply for student loans. I don’t seem to qualify for any of the government grants. I cannot understand why students are continually overlooked as a distinct group in need of assistance. I won’t be able to afford to heat my home this winter. And I study entirely at home. And nobody seems to care. Ours is a strangely unsupportive country.

  8. I am a 50 year old mature student with rented social house costs @ £92 pw. I am ‘supposed’ to be commuting by train to uni (both unaffordable and unreliable) twice a week for just 7 hours contact time. Even with a part-time additional income of £50 p/w, I am currently looking at a £121 deficit per week just on the increase of household bills alone. I lost my Carers Allowance (£56 pw) upon becoming a full-time student even though my caring responsibilities didn’t change. I have just received a council bill for £800 (because my children (non-students) invalidate my student exemption so effectively the single person discount doesn’t apply to me anymore).
    To add further injury (literally), I had to dip into my student loan to cover a £700 emergency dental bill (to remove an extremely painful 37 year-old broken crown) – This in itself has left me with a two month rent shortfall.
    I have spent the best part of the last two years obtaining the necessary qualifications (Access & GCSE’s) to even get into Uni in the first place. In theory, I knew that it would be a financial stretch, but in actuality, I simply cannot afford to continue with my degree beyond the first semester due to the accumulative, escalating and unaffordable debts that now exist at home.
    What an absolute waste of my time and money – (The exact amount, however, is frighteningly yet to be revealed).

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