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Students turn to food banks during cost of living crisis

Universities across the country are supporting students by opening food banks, as the cost of living continues to disrupt the education of young people.

Striking teachers have dominated the news cycle lately, as dire pay forces educators to join picket lines.

The extent of their situation was highlighted by teachers’ use of food banks, as they struggled to feed themselves on such low incomes.

Students and members of the wider community have been joining and supporting teacher strikes across the country in an effort to save schools from bankruptcy and underfunding.

But this week, the economic collapse of Britain’s education system – and the bleak realities of the cost of living crisis – have been highlighted by a swathe of universities opening their own food banks.

Swansea University Students’ Union (SU) announced efforts to support students struggling with rising costs, and have set up a food bank service on campus.

The SU said that 70 food parcels were claimed within 30 minutes of opening just before Christmas – a time notorious for increased expenses.

The university food bank came after lecturers reported an increase in student mental health struggles, with some taking on multiple jobs outside of their studies just to support themselves.

Ms Rosser, a member of the Swansea SU who helps run the weekly food banks, said ‘each time we’ve held a food bank we’ve been completely cleared out in terms of stock’.

The food parcels provided are funded by the university, and contain non-perishable essentials such as rice and pasta.

Other British universities, particularly in the North of the country where the cost of living crisis is felt the most, are struggling with student poverty.

At Manchester University, dozens of students barricaded themselves inside campus buildings to protest rising rent costs on site.

All first years, the students are calling for a 30% cut on monthly payments to the university, and a refund on fees already paid to help with the affordability of rent.

Hundreds of Manchester students shared they had been taking on full time jobs outside of study and turning to food banks to support themselves.

Unlike Swansea, Manchester has yet to provide a tangible solution for young people struggling through the rising cost of living.

Niamh Wybrant, a student at the university, told ITV last week, ‘I know people who get their maintenance loan, they’re full-time students, working two part time jobs and they’re still having to use food banks’.

Financial anxieties are in turn damaging students’ education, on which they are spending thousands a year.

Wybrant continued, ‘you can’t focus on [education] if you’re wondering where your next rent payment is going to come from or how you’re going to afford food’.

Unlike schools, which are facing underfunding from the government and being forced into closure, universities are privately run, profitable institutions.

This makes the financial struggles of students all the more pertinent, as universities continue to make money while those attending them – whether for work or education – struggle to make ends meet.

Gentrification within campuses is also impacting students from the lowest income backgrounds, and forcing them off-site to find accommodation elsewhere.

This isn’t a new issue, either. During my time at Sussex University in 2018, students protested the closure of East Slope student halls, which were – at the time – the most affordable halls available.

In their place, a new site was erected which offered some of the most expensive rooms on campus. A single bedroom with ensuite is currently set at £184 per week.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has described students’ financial struggles as ‘heart breaking’ but not surprising.

‘Students should be thriving, not just surviving, but too many are drowning under spiralling costs’.

A recent survey by NUS Cymru found that 96& of students are cutting back on their spending, which often means sacrificing crucial socialising opportunities.

The result is increased mental health problems, stress, and isolation.

Universities across Wales have announced hardship funds designed to help students with financial insecurity. The Welsh government has also recently provided £2.3m to help with students’ rising costs.

One can only hope the same safely nets are implemented for students across Britain, as the cost of living crisis shows no signs of waning – particularly amongst the nation’s most vulnerable groups.



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