A quarter of students forced to skip meals to save money through cost of living crisis

‘I have had my physical and mental health deteriorate’

A quarter of students at Russell Group unis are regularly skipping meals because they can’t afford food amidst the cost of living crisis.

Many have had to cut back on socialising, nights out and being part of uni societies, and almost three quarters say their mental health has suffered due to the cost of living crisis.

A new report, by the Russell Group Students’ Unions, surveyed 8,800 students across 14 Russell Group unis about the cost of living crisis.

Faced with rising costs, 25 per cent of students are left with no choice but to go without food and other necessities, because they cannot afford them.

‘I worry every day’

One student at a leading university said they’ve been forced to skip meals despite working as much as they possibly can. “I work the max amount that I can, yet I barely can cover my rent let alone anything else. I miss meals. I have had my physical and mental health deteriorate”, they said.

“I worry every day about how much change I have left. And it was a four-month long struggle with the university to even get any help.”

After housing costs, the report says the average student “is likely to fall under the UK poverty line”. It says the average student rent is £535 per month, leaving respondents with £72 a week – putting students only £2 over the UK destitution line.

And after paying bills, the average student is left with just £50 a month to live off, despite working on average 15 hours per week.

Another student said they’ve had to use their overdraft for food whilst studying, saying they now feel even more pressure to find a good job as soon as they graduate, to pay it off.

‘It’s been a nightmare’

This is having an impact on students’ studies, with one saying the hunger makes it harder to focus on their uni work. “Groceries are much more expensive, which makes it hard to cook large and healthy meals”, they said. “And as such it can feel harder to focus throughout the day whilst studying as I do not want to spend the extra on snacks and healthy food.”

Another student spoke of the “nightmare” of having to choose between food or funding something for university, and then having worries of failing their degree, and others spoke about how needing to work long hours to earn money is affecting their time studying.

“[I] am constantly thinking about my loans and how I’ll pay for them. This involves me continually applying for jobs which affects my study time. Overall mental health is tanking.”

As well as meals, many students are cutting back on socialising and being part of university societies.

72 per cent of students said their mental health has suffered because of the cost of living crisis, and 73 per cent have had to reduce the amount they socialise in order to make ends meet. Many are feeling more lonely and say their relationships have suffered.

One student has had to get two jobs as their student loan doesn’t cover their rent and their parents are unable to give them money, and they’ve had to resort to skipping food and not socialising.

“I’ve had to eat very little food in a week to save money, not joined clubs/societies that I would’ve wanted to and only been out once or twice because I can’t afford to”. They said this has had a massive effect on their mental health and they’ve almost dropped out “multiple times”.

‘Students are often ignored in conversations around the cost of living’

“Crucially, this research shows that students should be recognised as an at-risk group”, the report says. “[Students] are particularly vulnerable to financial insecurity and hardship, and yet are often ignored or overlooked in conversations around poverty and cost of living.

“If we do not step up for students now, we run the risk of allowing UK higher education to become one only for the most privileged in society, and undoing decades of access and participating work in the sector.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, Calm (Campaign against living miserably) on 0800 58 58 58, and Student Minds online here. You matter.

If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s difficulties with getting uni support, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]

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