Students are known for making do on a tight budget. But those close margins make them particularly vulnerable to the rising cost of living.
This new polling, conducted by Savanta for the Sutton Trust, examines how the ongoing cost of living crisis is impacting students, particularly those from working class families.
The findings reveal clear signs that students are under considerable financial pressure, with those from working class backgrounds suffering the heaviest impacts.
This issue was further explored in polling in March 2023.
The proportion of students from working class families who have skipped meals to cut food costs.
The proportion of students who have gotten a job or increased hours to make ends meet.
The proportion of students turning to their parents for financial support.
How are students being affected?
- Many students are facing considerable financial pressures because of increases in the cost of living. Since the start of the autumn term (September 2022), 63% report having spent less on food and essentials, with 28% saying they had skipped meals to save on food costs.
- 43% said they had used less fuel (such as electricity or gas) in their homes, 47% had stopped or reduced going out socially with friends, and 9% had reduced their attendance or dropped out of student societies. 6% reported moving back in with their family to save money on rent or bills. 16% travelled to campus less to save on transport and other costs, while 14% travelled to campus more for free energy use there (e.g. heating). 62% said they spent less on non-essentials and 18% avoided buying university supplies they needed for their course (e.g. laptops/textbooks).
- The crisis also risks impacting on young people’s drop out rates. Just under a quarter (24%) of students said they are less likely to finish their degree due to the cost of living crisis, with 4% saying they were much less likely.
- Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to report skipping meals to save on food costs (33% for those from working class families, compared to 24% of middle class students), and moving home with family to save on rent or bills (10% vs 4%).
- Students have been turning to parents (45%) and/or other family members (10%) for additional financial support (overall, 48% gained support from one or both of these sources). However, this appeared to be an option less often for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, with lower proportions of working class students receiving additional support from their parents (38% vs 48%), or other family members (9% vs 12%).
- Looking at students in their second year and above, 57% said their financial situation was worse this academic year (since September 2022) compared to the year before (September 2021 to Summer 2022), including 16% saying it was much worse. The proportion saying it had worsened overall was higher for students from working class (66%) than middle class (54%) families.
Where are students going for support?
- 27% of students overall had gotten a job or taken on more hours to make ends meet, 11% had received support such as hardship funds from their university, 4% had taken out additional private loans and 2% had used a food bank or other charity support.
- Only one third of students said they had not needed any additional financial support due to the rising cost of living.
- The government’s energy support scheme has been one of their key elements of support for households during the cost of living crisis. The scheme has given every household in England, Wales and Scotland £400 to help with energy costs, paid to individuals via their energy company. If someone’s landlord received this payment from their energy company (either as their rent is all-inclusive of bills, or because their landlord sells energy onto them from the energy company) they should have passed this £400 onto the individual’s household – including for students.
- However, 40% of students living in private rental accommodation in these nations said they had not received this payment from either their landlord or their energy company, with a further 8% unsure whether they had received the payment.
- The government should urgently review the funding available to students for day to day living costs. The government in England recently announced an increase to maintenance loans of just 2.8% (compared to inflation of around 10%), and does not come into force until the next academic year. Government should urgently review levels of maintenance support, to better match the financial challenges students are facing.
- More funding should go to universities for hardship funds. Findings here show students clearly need additional support now. The government recently announced an additional £15 million for hardship funds, but analysis by the Sutton Trust finds that if that funding was split between undergraduate students in England from the most deprived areas (by IMD), it equates to only £67 per student. More funding is needed to help universities to support students encountering financial difficulties in the coming months.
- Government should ensure support from the Energy Support Scheme is being passed on to students. Too many students have not received this crucial support, government should review the scheme urgently to ensure this money is getting passed onto students as intended.
- In the medium term, the government should bring back maintenance grants, at a level reflecting increased costs of living since they were abolished in 2015.
- Universities should ensure existing financial support is clearly communicated to students. Where hardship funds and other support are available, universities should clearly advertise their availability to all students. Universities should also do what they can to ensure the application and decision process is as quick as possible so that students in urgent need are able to access support.
- Wherever possible, universities should expand the financial support available to students. While universities are limited by funding provided by government, wherever possible universities should look to expand the financial support available to students to help them during the cost of living crisis.