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One in five students use food banks and two thirds skip meals

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

Almost a fifth (18%) of students have used a food bank in the last academic year, up from 10% in 2022, according to a student advocacy group.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the Save the Student survey respondents said they skip meals at least some of the time to save money.

One third-year student told researchers: “My housemates and I regularly go day to day on just one main meal – we’ve been going to food banks in our local area since the start of this academic year, just so we can have basics in like pasta, eggs etc.”

Student finance

Save the Student’s National Student Money Survey 2023 found that the average student’s monthly living costs have risen by 17% since 2022, from £924 to £1,078. But below-inflation increases in the Maintenance Loan now mean it falls short of living costs by an average of £582 per month. Two-thirds (64%) of students said the Maintenance Loan was not enough to live on.

Tom Allingham, Save the Student’s communications director, said: “This is the most troubling set of results we’ve ever seen in the National Student Money Survey. It’s clear from these findings that students have been hit particularly hard by the cost of living crisis, experiencing a rate of inflation of up to 17%.

“And, while Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have all tried to ensure funding keeps pace with costs, England has not. As a result, the average Maintenance Loan now falls short of living costs by £582 per month, or almost £7,000 per year.

“This is a dereliction of duty from the Government, plunging huge swathes of students into food poverty. Around two-thirds are skipping meals at least some of the time, and 18% used a food bank in 2022/23 – close to double the figure from the previous year.

“Clearly, the problem is getting worse, not better, and the Government urgently needs to do more. The £276m of ‘hardship funding’ supplied through the Office for Students is actually less than pre-pandemic levels, and it’s barely scratching the surface.”

Sources of income

When looking at students’ sources of money at university, one noticeable year-on-year shift is that the proportion that receives money from their parents has dropped from 59% to 53%. This suggests it could be increasingly difficult for students to rely on their parents – many of whom will also be struggling with the rising cost of living.

On top of this, the proportion of surveyed students with a part-time job has decreased from 62% to 56%. However, while a lower proportion of surveyed students have part-time jobs compared to last year, the average amount earned by those who are working has increased.

In the 2022 survey, students who had paid jobs were earning £422 a month on average, but this has increased to £544 a month this year.

Kellie McAlonan, chair of the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA), said: “It is particularly alarming to see how the findings this year compare to last year. Monthly costs have risen considerably, adding to an already significant gap between student funding income and living costs.

“The survey shows the majority of respondents skipping meals to survive, which is a particularly worrying trend. This, along with food bank use among students being on the rise, makes it clear the systems in place are not fit for purpose.

“The Government need to consider that struggling to fund basic living costs is a reality for many students, and it isn’t good enough. Core funding packages need to be good enough to support student success.”