Noah Eden, Sheffield Socialist Students
One in ten students are having to use food banks, according to a recent survey by the National Union of Students (NUS). One in five students can’t afford toiletries, and a further one in ten can’t afford sanitary products when they need them. In June it was also reported that there has been a 3,000% increase in the number of graduates who owe more than £100,000 in student loan debts.
The fact of the matter is simple: student loans aren’t enough to provide students with the money that we need to survive. The average maintenance loan is £5,640 a year – nowhere near enough to cover typical extortionate rents, let alone buy food, energy, travel and the rest.
The NUS survey found that a third of students are being forced to live on less than £50 a month because of rent and bills, leaving many students unable to carry out proper weekly food shops and not being able to afford to travel into university.
Many of us take minimum wage jobs with dodgy contracts at the same time as being expected to carry out a ‘full-time’ degree.
The NUS has called on the government to provide a cost-of-living support package for students, and for maintenance loans and the apprentice minimum wage to be brought into line with the ‘National Living Wage’ – just £6.83 an hour for 18 to 20-year-olds, and £4.81 for under-18s.
But we need to go further than that. Demanding a decent living grant for all students is necessary, and could be linked to low-paid workers also struggling for a £15-an-hour minimum wage. But an increase in maintenance payments for students cannot be funded by simply plunging us further into debt. We must fight for maintenance grants, not loans! We also need to outline how it can be fought for and won. With the ongoing summer of workers’ strikes, and further strikes looking likely in the autumn, why doesn’t the NUS build on the March student demo, and organise students to take to the streets alongside striking workers? To bring together the fight for a £15-an-hour minimum wage, an end to zero-hour contracts and right for everyone to be able to attend university without the fear of a lifetime of financial burden.