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A survey found one in four students regularly go without food and other necessities (Image: Getty)

The Chancellor’s budget was a missed opportunity to support the doctors, nurses and public sector workers of tomorrow, campaigners have said. Jeremy Hunt failed to mention university students once again in his Spring Statement on Wednesday afternoon.

The NUS’s Vice President for Higher Education, Chloe Field, said: “The suffering of students shames our country. 

“And yet, despite all the evidence available to him, the Chancellor has chosen to do nothing.”

Ms Field welcomed Mr Hunt’s announcements on childcare, energy bills and fuel duty, but is disappointed that nothing has been done to address the concerns of students struggling with rising prices, spiralling rents, and the failure of Maintenance loans. 

She added: “The Government has done the bare minimum and needs to do far more if more students aren’t to be condemned to poverty.”

Just this week, the Russell Group Students’ Unions published a survey which found one in four students regularly go without food and other necessities because they cannot afford them.

This rose to over three in 10 for those from the most socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Shockingly, 54 percent of students reported their academic performance had suffered because of the cost-of-living crisis, while 18 percent considered dropping out due to financial reasons. 

Students reported having to take on additional paid work to cover costs, concentration issues caused by poor nourishment and financial stress, and skipping lectures because they couldn’t afford travel fares. 

Researchers said unless urgent action is taken, the damage being done by the crisis could lead to universities being “only open to the most privileged”.

Dani Bradford, policy and research manager at Students’ Union UCL, who led the research, said: “We’re really running a risk where our university system is only open to the most privileged.”

It was only among students with a family household income of £75,000-plus that they saw a considerable decrease in the numbers considering dropping out. 

The average respondent fell below the UK poverty line, she said, and only £2 a week above the UK level of destitution, after paying for housing. 

Bradford added: “It’s not just that they can’t go out and get coffee or socialise, it’s this very real level of quite severe poverty that a lot of our students are finding themselves in – and with no avenue to get out.”

Students reported feeling suicidal, struggling with severe anxiety and loneliness, with 72 per cent admitting their mental health had suffered. 

Ms Field added: “Students are the doctors, nurses and public sector workers of tomorrow and yet the Government has done little.”

Universities UK, the collective voice for universities in the UK, echoed the NUS’s fears. 

A spokesperson told the Express: “Multiple surveys are showing how students are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living, and we cannot afford to see the next generation of teachers, doctors, nurses, and scientists drop out because they can’t make ends meet.

“Universities are doing all they can to support students, but with inflation still high, it’s imperative that the maintenance support package is looked at more closely – the recently announced uplift for next year will not recover the real terms cut students are seeing to their maintenance loans.

“Missing from Wednesday’s budget was confirmation of funding for the upcoming NHS long-term workforce plan which sets out significant expansion of medical, nursing and other health students to address critical NHS staff shortages. 

“Universities stand ready to support this, working with the Government and the NHS to assure quality, safety and student experience.”

Tom Allingham, head of communications at Save the Student, said: “The Government’s complete reluctance to address students’ needs in the 2023 Budget is unacceptable. 

“Maintenance Loans have not kept up with inflation, and now students will be £1,500 worse off every year until the government fixes its mistakes. 

“The Budget was the perfect opportunity for them to do this, but instead, they announced absolutely no targeted support for students. 

“This simply isn’t sustainable, and we’d urge everyone to sign and share our petition calling on the government to increase Maintenance Loans in line with recent inflation.”

Oscar Sharples

Oscar Sharples (Image: Youth Futures Foundation)

”’There is so much pressure on me”

Student Oscar Sharples fears Jeremy Hunt’s failure to acknowledge young people in his Budget on Wednesday will put many off applying to university.

The rising cost-of-living, coupled with the ongoing impact of the pandemic, has ruined the university experience for many youngsters, Oscar, 21, included.

Many students, who have never had to budget before, have been left “stressed and struggling” as prices soar through the roof. 

But there is little help out there for those at university and Mr Hunt’s Budget proved that this isn’t likely to change anytime soon, Oscar told the Express.

The second-year human, social, and political science student, said: “Young people are continually ignored by the Government – you sort of get used to it and that’s not right.

“In Mr Hunt’s budget announcement, he spoke a lot about education and employment, yet he failed to even acknowledge the country’s 1.8m plus university students, many of whom are struggling – relying on food banks to get by.”

Oscar studies at a top Russell Group university, which he did not want to name, and has been told by the institution he is not allowed to work during his studies due to the heavy workload. 

But the youngster, from Reading, has no choice and works part-time so he can afford his living costs while living away from home.

He added: “There is so much pressure on me and there’s no guarantee I will get a job after I graduate. 

“It makes you question why you are even studying for the degree when the university or the Government don’t offer to help you when you are struggling. 

“They don’t take into account those who can’t rely on their parents – they have no understanding that some people come from disadvantaged backgrounds, despite the privileged position they are in to be studying at a prestigious university.”

Oscar feels like students are in a “lose-lose situation” during the cost-of-living crisis and would like to see the Government offer more financial support to youngsters studying.

Elijah Heyes

Elijah Heyes (Image: Phill Harris)

”I have ended up at food banks more times than I can count”

Elijah Heyes, who has been staying in a YMCA hostel in Southend, Essex, since 2019, was “disappointed” that young people were forgotten about in the Chancellor’s Budget.

The 20-year-old has been hit hard by the cost-of-living crisis. This time last year, he was paying £10 a week to the youth charity for his energy bills, which has now more than doubled to £25 as gas prices continue to soar. 

Left with little choice, Elijah, who is currently studying for a level three in engineering at South Essex College, has been forced to rely on short-term loans and food banks to get by. 

He said: “I have been staying at the YMCA hostel for about three-and-a-half years, and it has been really tough.

“The cost-of-living crisis has been a massive struggle for me, and I often run out of money towards the end of the month. I have ended up at food banks more times than I can count.

“Jeremy Hunt did address a lot of important issues facing Brits in Wednesday’s budget, but he failed to mention any support for young people, especially those in supported accommodation. 

“We, in shared housing, are not eligible for the Energy Price Guarantee, and I think the Government assume young people, like me, can just fall back on their parents in times of difficulty. Some can, yes, but not all and that’s really upsetting.”

Elijah has to budget very carefully every month when he receives his £250 in Universal Credit (UC). 

Once he has completed his college course, he wants to get a job in engineering, but travelling to college has been a struggle due to rising fuel costs. So, the Chancellor’s decision to extend the 5p per litre cut in fuel duty was welcomed by the youngster. 

He added: “I have a motorbike to get me to college and back again, which is cheaper than public transport, but rising fuel prices haven’t been easy to navigate over the past year or so. I need to get an education and qualifications so I have a better chance of getting a job in the future.

“Mr Hunt’s announcement on fuel duty was a huge relief and now fuel prices are one less thing I have to worry about”.

Elijah, who was born in London but moved to Southend with his family eight years ago, would like to see the Government acknowledge “this country’s future” in his next Budget, he said.

Ladajah Wilson

Ladajah Wilson (Image: Youth Futures Foundation)

”We have been deprived of the typical university experience”

Ladajah Wilson, a first-year law student, said the cost-of-living squeeze and rising train fares have meant she struggles to afford to travel home to see her family. 

And this has started to impact the 19-year-old’s mental health.

The youngster, from Birmingham, told the Express: “The cost-of-living crisis has been really difficult for university students like me. 

“From the price of groceries to train fares, it’s all going through the roof. My friends and I are going out less, especially being in London as prices are just so high. 

“We have been deprived of the typical university experience and I am disappointed that Jeremy Hunt did nothing to help us.

“It’s unaffordable to be a student today. It’s so hard and the Government just don’t listen to us, and they don’t include us. 

“We have lost so much because of Covid – so many opportunities and so much in-person teaching. And now the cost-of-living crisis is crippling us. 

“I worry about my future. Job prospects are a worry, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Ladajah did, however, welcome Mr Hunt’s promise to provide up to 30 hours a week of free childcare for eligible households in England with children as young as nine months – instead of three and four-year-olds under the current policy.

She said that this came as a “bit of relief” as she feared how she would be able to afford a family, whilst holding down a job, in the future.