Ninety-one per cent of the UK population has seen an increase in their cost of living, as reported by the Office for National Statistics. However, university students face an even bigger challenge with the added commitment of being in full-time education. It is more difficult for students to take on extra hours at work or to access different kinds of government support due to their student status. With UK inflation at 11.1% at the time of writing, students are being financially impacted across the board when it comes to paying increased expenses from stagnant student loans.

Wealth Vs Health

Increases in the cost of student accommodation in recent years mean that the current maintenance loans are often not enough to cover rent payments and other living expenses. The National Student Money Survey 2022 reveals that on average, student loans fall short of covering living expenses by £439 per month. Amongst student expenses, accommodation was found to have been the largest expense, although not all student loans cover even this cost.

Part of the problem with the price of student accommodation is the increasing number of private, ‘luxury-style’ housing being built across the UK. These new developments are attractive to foreign investors looking to make money from the predicted growth in demand. As such, they are often more expensive than traditional university-owned halls. Given that students face more competition for private-let accommodation, they may have to resort to the more expensive options. 

The cost-of-living crisis is also impacting students’ ability to afford food, transport costs and other basic necessities. Recent research shows that 96 per cent of students have reduced their spending, and 52 per cent report cutting back their spending on food.

Restrictive budgeting could negatively impact students’ physical health as a result of using less heating and having less to eat. In my case, transport costs are my biggest monthly spend. Almost one-third of my monthly income goes towards train fares, even with a student travel card. Recently, I have invested in more thermal layers of clothing to combat the colder weather and rising heating costs. Cost-cutting measures can help, but high inflation rates mean that student income can only stretch so far.

Due to shortfalls in student maintenance loans, many students must work part-time jobs to fund their studies. A recent survey found that 62 per cent of students work part-time during their studies and are increasingly using their savings to fund living expenses. I have a part-time retail job on the weekends and in recent weeks have taken some extra hours when I could get them. Extra shifts have helped to boost my income, but there are some drawbacks. It can be difficult to find a work-life balance between university work, part-time work and life. Taking on extra hours at the weekend reduces the time available for socialising with friends and resting after a week spent studying. Trying to juggle too much can quickly result in feeling burnt out, especially around assessment periods. This is why students need to have adequate time away from studies and work to look after their physical and mental well-being. The cost-of-living crisis is pushing many of us to work extra hours at the expense of our health.

Campaigns for Support

The National Union of Students has been vocal about the need for increased government and university support for students during the cost-of-living crisis. The Northern Irish branch is campaigning for cost-of-living payments to be made to students to support them financially, along with action on rent payments and transport costs. NUS Scotland is campaigning for increases in grants and bursaries for students, among other issues. 

Universities across the UK have published support packages for students to help with the rising costs. Many have increased the finances available for hardship funds in order to allow greater access and announced one-off support payments. With financial pressures fuelling increased mental health concerns amongst students, university actions such as these are most welcome.

Financial difficulties should not form an impenetrable barrier to higher education. Young people should be able to focus on getting their degrees, rather than having to worry about making ends meet. With economic uncertainty increasing in the UK, it’s the student population that is arguably most at risk of burning out by trying to stay afloat with extra work hours.

Government action is urgently needed to directly support students during one of the most economically challenging times. Let’s hope it comes, for all our sakes.

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