Devika Dadrah, RHUL student intern, explains the pressures facing today’s students during the cost-of-living crisis.
As a student who attended university during the pandemic, I have witnessed first-hand how student life has been impacted by the pandemic. Student mental health, already affected by loneliness, anxiety, and stress from having to learn online during the pandemic, is now being affected by the cost-of-living crisis as living costs overtake student maintenance loans.
Student cost-of-living crisis
According to the Student Loan Company (SLC), 26 September 2022 was one of the biggest payment days of the 2022/23 academic year, with £797m of funding paid to 372,000 students. Overall, £21 billion was paid out in maintenance loan payments. Many students rely on maintenance loans to fund their living expenses, but as the cost-of-living crisis gets worse, the amount students receive has not kept pace with inflation. A National Union of Students (NUS) campaign in support of the current struggle that students face claims that 68% of students cannot even afford course materials. In their survey of 3,500 students, almost a third of students were left with just £50 a month to live on after paying rent and bills. Essentially, students face rising rents, utility bills, food bills and transport costs. Resorting to taking on more part-time jobs with tiring shifts is the only option for many.
Mental health decline
The cost-of-living crisis has caused more anxiety and mental health struggles for students from disadvantaged backgrounds such as those from low-income families and minorities. According to the charity Young Minds, young people are developing severe stress as they report disruption to their diet and sleep. According to their research, 20-25 year-olds feel more concerned about money as 80% always or often worried about earning enough.
Voices of today’s students
The anxiety of not having enough money to live on is changing students’ behaviours. Interviews undertaken with current students at Royal Holloway highlight their stress. One student, when asked if and how their spending patterns had changed commented, “My spending patterns have changed. I have had to budget my student loan and cut spending on certain monthly contracts and subscriptions.”
Other students interviewed reported working two jobs on a part-time basis to make ends meet. However, working alongside studies can be detrimental to students’ studies with students interviewed reporting tiredness and low mood. “Working has impacted my studies because I work morning shifts and I get really tired and my energy is quite low,” commented one student. Another student suggested that they should really give up their job to better focus on their studies, but they could not keep their head above water if they do so.
The increase in essential costs, such as travel and food, has led one student becoming more anxious about their spending. Fortunately, because they live with their parents, the cost of housing is not a problem for the time being. Another student has had to leave student accommodation because it was too expensive and their student loan did not provide enough funding to support their living expenses. The final student interviewed, summed up general student anxiety saying, “It is difficult to plan far ahead over how to manage my finances when I worry about my present situation. Other students must be going through the same and that at least makes me feel a little less alone in this.”
These personal stories should demonstrate that the current level of student maintenance loans are not enough to support students’ living costs during the cost-of-living crisis. For this reason, financial support should increase. A rise of 2.3% for 2022/23 is not enough when inflation rates are much higher. According to an NUS report on the student cost-of-living crisis, financial support, including maintenance loans, postgraduate stipends and available bursaries, are all falling as inflation increases.
Students have been largely forgotten during the current crisis and the government must do more to ensure that they can afford to support themselves while investing tens of thousands of pounds in their own educations.
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