“It’s maddening”: students on how spiralling costs are affecting them
As part of our week-long Cost of Living series, we spoke to university students about how they’re coping with the current economic crisis.
University is meant to be a time of freedom, fun and experimentation. It’s for new pals and parties, pre-drinks and sticky-floored club nights, trying new things and learning new things – both academically and socially. What it shouldn’t be is a time for excessive worrying about bills, rocketing energy prices, rent hikes, and how the hell you’re meant to juggle part-time jobs with studying for a degree, while also fitting in an active social life.
That being said, uni has also historically been a time for scrimping and saving (water as vodka mixer, anyone?), but we know that it’s now more expensive than ever to be a student. A recent survey by Save The Student showed student living costs have risen by 14 per cent since 2021. The government has failed to increase loans in line with inflation, and worryingly, the average student’s maintenance loan currently falls short of covering their living costs by £439 each month. Many young people are now struggling to bridge this gap.
Rising tuition fees and soaring costs have also led to a whopping 48 per cent of students taking on additional debt beyond their student loans. Newcastle University’s student union has even opened its own food bank. And it doesn’t look like much help from the government is around the corner: following the announcement of Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget, which swiftly tanked the pound, the NUS accused the government of “ignoring students”.
As part of THE FACE’s Cost of Living series this week, photographer Nora Nord went down to some of London’s universities and asked students how the crisis is affecting them, what they’re most worried about, and what would help them during this time.
“I’m finding it financially tough to be a student right now. I’ve been cutting back on buying school items. I’m concerned that people who can’t or don’t earn the living minimum wage won’t be able to afford housing.”
“I manage my money well and have realised what the important things you need are, but I’m worried about rises in inflation – it’s only going to go higher. I’ve been cutting back on eating out to save money. It’s important the government resolves this issue now, before it gets any worse.”
“I’m finding it hard, especially since food prices have gone up. I now even have second thoughts about spending money on canteen food. Sometimes I buy a Tesco meal deal and split it into two meals. I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be able to live in London after I graduate as an international student. If I go home after I finish, it feels like I’m throwing everything that I’ve worked on away. Staying here and going home both equally scare me.”
“I’m wary of buying things that aren’t absolutely necessary, like groceries. I haven’t bought anything lately. As I’m currently looking for flats, the cost of living crisis has forced us to extend our budget beyond what we’re capable of spending. I’m worried I’ll struggle to lead a “normal” student life. The government hasn’t shown any interest in aiding the current situation – we’ve been made to shoulder the pressure of the crisis ourselves.”
“Everything is getting more expensive, and as a student I can’t work more than 20 hours a week. It’s hard for me to cover my expenses. I’m struggling to make rent, and have moved out of the city centre. I’m trying to get as many jobs as possible. I’m joining Central Saint Martins’ changemaker team to help students use their voices.”
“I’m worried about being able to afford to pay off bills, not only for myself, but for my family as well. Since bills have become more and more demanding, I feel guilty spending money on myself. I’ve been limiting myself on material things like clothes and make-up, as well as takeout food. The government has done nothing but make empty promises, which is the least bit surprising but still disappointing. They would only bother to respond if they stood to gain something politically in return.”
“I get a lot of help from my family. I currently work two part-time jobs as a model and in retail. I’m most concerned about the price of transport – I spend £200 a month right now, which isn’t great. I think more discounts for students would help us.”
“I’m not desperate right now, but I’m concerned about how this would affect poorer and more marginalised people. I’ve been following campaigns like Don’t Pay and Enough is Enough, but I have little faith in the government. The Mayor’s rent freeze plan seems good, but it still hasn’t been approved. Ofgem and other major energy companies’ prices, even with Liz Truss’s cap, are still significantly high. As a non-British citizen, I’m not really entitled to any government aid finance-wise. But I’m starting to temp a lot to earn extra spending money.”
“I’m worried about not being able to produce what I need to for my degree. I’ve been cutting back on buying food, and lower yearly tuition fees would help me the most right now. The government’s response to the crisis has been absolutely pathetic!”
“The prospect of living comfortably in the future is not really that clear. Young people are living in a lot of ambiguity, and that’s really scary. I’m cutting back on food, clothes, everything really. It’s quite expensive here.”
“I’m most worried about rising energy costs and increasing bills. I try not to use too much heating and hot water, or buy clothes. Finding a reliable part-time job would help me get through this time.”
“Housing, everyday expenses… even just a cup of coffee is a strain. That’s money I’d rather be investing in my studies and projects. Travelling back home to see my family is basically out of the question. How are those less fortunate going to afford anything? More and more homeless people will emerge. It’s horrific and maddening. Just the other day at the Queen’s funeral, volunteers were handing out blankets for people queuing for 30 hours to see her coffin. Where is that energy for the thousands of homeless people populating the streets in the winter in that same area?”