Which tenth of students are turning to food banks?

The National Union of Students (NUS) has some alarming new stats out on student hardship today.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

It says a third of students are living on less than £50 a month after paying rent and bills, and finds that 96 per cent are cutting back as a result of the cost of living crisis.

More than one in ten are accessing food banks, an increasing number are turning to their savings, credit cards and bank loans, and there are inevitable impacts on wellbeing – with 90 per cent of students reporting an impact on their mental health, 31 per cent reporting this to be a “major” impact.

3 out of 4 say they would not be able to continue to afford course materials without more support, 83 per cent of students have sought financial support by other means via credit cards, buy now pay later schemes and bank loans, and while 53 per cent of students have turned to their families and friends for financial support, a third say the cost-of-living crisis has impacted those who support them.

Only 20 per cent of respondents say they have received any sort of support from the UK government or their devolved government, and just 8 per cent think their government is doing enough to support them.

It’s all pretty grim – with a whole clutch of miserable qualitative quotes in the press release – but there’s a problem.

Ignore for a minute that in Westminster this lands on a day that there’s no further and higher education minister to even respond. Also ignore the surreal situation that the quote in the press release is from “an NUS spokesperson” – because the NUS Board has effectively banned its student officers from speaking to the press until July 22nd pending resolution of the investigation surrounding incoming President Shaima Dallali.

The survey itself – completed by 3417 people – covers all types of student (and apprentice) studying in all parts of the UK and from both the UK and other countries, and is unweighted. Just 60 per cent were full time, 53 per cent from higher education and 29 per cent male. We don’t know the percentage of students from NI that are feeling the pinch elsewhere in the country; we don’t know whether the percentage of international students that are struggling or higher than home students; and we don’t know whether the bigger problem is amongst degree apprentices or full time students.

We do have a penchant for a little complexity at NUS, of course – but the ability of decision makers to ignore these figures as a result of wedging everything together ought to be a concern. As it stands there are four nations somewhere in these figures with multiple current packages for FE and HE students – and even in the latter FT students, PT students and apprentices. If we can’t judge the effectiveness of the policies aimed at each of the groups, what’s the point in the figures?

As a result perhaps it’s no surprise that the policy asks are so vague – a call for the UK government to “put in place a tailored cost of living support package” and a call for the student maintenance package and the apprentice minimum wage to be “brought in line with the Living Wage”.

2 responses to “Which tenth of students are turning to food banks?

  1. I genuinely feel for students today. In 2002 I tried as a student experiment to live off £10 a week and I lasted a fortnight, mainly because there is only so much supermarket instant mash you can stomach after 1 meal. I know people might scoff and say ‘just make simple meals’ or ‘don’t students just live off noodles anyway?’ but young people nowadays are more health conscious and want to be able to live well and have enough money for fresh vegetables and to be able to cook decent meals.

    I would like to see what the accomodation breakdown looks like though. I do wonder how many accessing foodbanks are the same students who stay on in all-inclusive modern halls past the first year vs those in shared housing. £50 a month as an individual doesn’t really go very far but £50 a week for 4 adults actually isn’t that bad if you pool resources, cook communally and batch things long-term. This does require a reasonable amount of co-operation between friends though.

  2. You’re absolutely right to question the usefulness of this survey. You can see from the report that half of respondents were over 30 years old. It feels like a degree of self selection bias is at play here. I don’t think the NUS do themselves any favours with this kind of analysis. I would agree (as I suspect most people would) that students should to be supported through this period of rising living costs, but the evidence base needs to be more robust than this.

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