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Why the cost-of-living crisis is damaging for students

The cost-of-living crisis is sending food prices sky high, breaking down the UK’s national health system and forcing us to abandon our petrol-based transport. What does this mean for graduating students?

‘From September, some sacrifices will have to be made,’ says Sandali Jayasinghe, a 22-year-old Master’s student based in London.

Currently finishing her dissertation in clinical drug development, Jayasinghe has already secured a full-time job in her sector due to start in September, but she’s concerned the money won’t be enough to cover everything she needs outside of that job.

The cost-of-living crisis has crept up on us in the UK – although not very surprisingly – following the world’s fight against the coronavirus, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and most recently the country’s government losing the majority of its key leadership.

Brexit also damaged our relationship with many EU countries and collectively we are now facing one of the worst inflation rates in decades.

As the UK currently experiences a surge of over 9% in inflation, which is the average change in the price of typical goods and services purchased by UK households over a year, our energy bills and our taxes keep going higher.

This will hit the unemployed and those just starting their careers the hardest. That includes Gen-Z, especially those of us based in big cities like London, where the average monthly costs for a single person without rent in June were over £900.

Last week, the Guardian also reported that the cost-of-living crisis is causing an increase in student homelessness in the UK. The article cited a survey conducted by the National Union of Students in Scotland, which revealed that 12% of students had experienced homelessness since starting their studies, rising to one in three among estranged and care-experienced students.

The article explained that international students with children are found to be more at risk, but local people from disadvantaged backgrounds are also in need of targeted support.

Simran Rifat, 22, has been a part-time tutor since she was 17. In recent months, she’s been on the hunt for a second one due to raised expenses.

Even with one job, Rifat is struggling to make ends meet – from petrol, to food, to buying clothes. She’s had to take out an overdraft on her student loan due to her unexpected extra expenses.

‘I think the impact mainly came from the Russia-Ukraine conflict when petrol prices went up,’ she says.

But obtaining a second part-time role has been so hard, she says, adding that the equal hike in demand for jobs has meant most employers don’t even respond to her applications.

Come September, after she completes her degree, Rifat hopes she’ll be able to obtain a full-time job so that she can start to live comfortably again. ‘But the job market is a shamble at the moment, so securing one is going to be really hard,’ she notes, adding that the unstable UK political situation might also bring up taxes and affect loans.

Her financial strain is now taking a toll on her mental health.

‘I feel myself losing the motivation and the drive to even do just normal daily things,’ she says. ‘I’m fatigued to the point where I fall asleep on public transport now.’

Jayasinghe also lives alone and while she used to have a part-time job, this did not cover her bills. She quit to focus on her degree and has instead turned to her parents for an allowance from abroad until she starts her job in clinical drug development in September.

When I go independent, my rent, bills, and council tax are going to take 60% of my pay check, and my new role will be based in Amersham so that is going to mean a lot of travel costs too. ‘I don’t want it to affect my social life because I will be living alone, but some sacrifices will have to be made,’ she adds.

Alessia Trabucco, 22, is an international student at the University Of Surrey currently on her placement year interning as a marketing executive. When she returns to complete her degree in September, she will start a part-time role as a peer support ambassador.

This is the first time I will have to work a part-time role on the side of my degree, she notes.

Trabucco said the changes in costs have been small and gradual, like the increase in taxes deducted from her salary, the weekly food shop, and electricity bills.

If inflation keeps rising, things will get harder, she says, noting that she is particularly concerned about being able to see her family in Italy, with the energy crisis and the recent staff strikes sending plane tickets soaring.

The UK faces more inflation this September and students are concerned this will hit them hard again.

To avoid an even higher burden, 22-year-old student Saja Jasim says the government should at least consider lowering tuition fees for incoming students. Despite the coronavirus pandemic measures forcing students to quit, defer or face having a course fully transferred online, those who graduated between 2020 and 2022 could not claim compensation for their tuition fees.

Other governments, such as the Netherlands, took very different approaches during the pandemic. As part of a so-called National Education Agreement, the government halved tuition fees for all students enrolled in the 2021/2022 academic year – a decision it made to give students “breathing space” during the coronavirus crisis.

Jasim also suggests reducing or scrapping interest on student loans and free transport for all those studying within London and Jayasinghe notes that cutting down taxes on bills could help ease some financial burdens.

Meanwhile, Rifat says if she were in power, she would raise the minimum salary rate in London to £30,000 per year.

‘In order to survive the current situation,’ she adds.