UK students increasingly skipping meals as cost of living rises

New polling highlights ‘scandalous’ impact of financial pressures on student life

January 26, 2023
Source: iStock

More than a quarter of UK students are skipping meals and 24 per cent say they might not finish their degrees because of the financial pressures wrought by the cost-of-living crisis, according to new polling.

Education charity the Sutton Trust said the findings of its research were “scandalous”, pointing out that the extra money recently announced for student hardship funding by the Westminster government amounts to only £67 per student.

The polling company Savanta surveyed 1,050 students on behalf of the trust and found that:

  • A quarter (24 per cent) of students say they are less likely to finish their degree as a result of the cost-of-living crisis
  • Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) report spending less on food and essentials, with more than a quarter (28 per cent) saying they have skipped meals to save on food costs
  • Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to report skipping meals (33 per cent for students from working-class families, compared with 24 per cent of middle-class students).

Spending on energy and socialising has also been reduced by about half of the students polled, and 6 per cent say they have moved back in with their parents to save money on rent or bills.

Another recent survey by Opinium on behalf of the company TechnologyOne put the numbers higher, with seven in 10 saying they had considered dropping out of their degree and 37 per cent of these students citing the rising cost of living as the main reason.

University leaders have long been concerned about the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on student numbers, with undergraduate withdrawals increasing by a quarter in 2021-22 and likely to rise ever higher this academic year as the full impact of the crisis takes its toll.

The Sutton Trust highlighted that the problem disproportionately affects those from low-income backgrounds, who are less likely to be able to turn to parents for additional financial support. Only 38 per cent of working-class students say they are able to rely on parents to help out, compared with 48 per cent of their better-off peers, according to the research.

Asked about access to additional support, 27 per cent of students say they have taken on more paid employment, 11 per cent have accessed hardship funds, 4 per cent have taken out private loans and 2 per cent have used a food bank.

The chair of the Sutton Trust, Sir Peter Lampl, said the crisis was having a “serious impact” on students.

“It is scandalous that students are skipping meals and having to cut back on essentials, and that a staggering quarter of students say they are now less likely to finish their degree as a result of the crisis”, he added.

Sir Peter said the government should “urgently review” the amount of funding and support available for students.

There was widespread dismay in the sector when a 2.8 per cent rise in students’ maintenance loans was announced earlier in January. There had been calls for a much more generous increase given that the support had not kept up with the pace of inflation for several years.

The Sutton Trust said its research found that 40 per cent of students living in private rental accommodation have not received the £400 given to every household in England, Wales and Scotland as part of the government’s energy support scheme. Landlords are expected to pass on the saving from the energy company, but it appears that many have not.

Reacting to the report, Matt Western MP, Labour’s shadow higher education minister, said ministers had “failed to take the action necessary to support students” despite the “scale of the crisis…building for months”.

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