#Project Winter: Save the Student call for government to help save students from financial “turmoil”

Someone puts money into a white piggybank there is text over the image saying - project winter platform x impact at best it's a careless decision at worst it's downright neglectful, no amount of scrimping and saving will make the loan enough to live on the government has cut the maintenance loan by stealth
Laura Scaife, Adam Eaton and Will Hugall

Laura Scaife, Adam Eaton and Will Hugall explore the “absolutely unworkable” maintenance loans and one student group’s petition to change it. 

Student money saving organisation, Save the Student had launched a petition earlier this year calling on the government to increase maintenance loans in line with the current rate of inflation. 

At best, it’s a careless decision – at worst, it’s downright neglectful

As it currently stands, maintenance loans are due to rise by only 2.8 per cent as opposed to the current rate of inflation which is above 10 per cent. 

This means that students could be £1,500 poorer each year if this continues to be the case. 

Tom Allingham, Head of Communications for Save the Student stands by the petition. 

He said: “Our 2022 National Student Money Survey found that, on average, Maintenance Loans now fall short of living costs by £439 every month. 

“That is absolutely unworkable, and no amount of scrimping and saving will make the loan enough to live on. 

It’s vital that loans increase by more, to save students from intense financial turmoil.” 

When asked for their thoughts on the increase of only 2.8 per cent, Tom said: “The government has cut the Maintenance Loan by stealth.

“This would be bad news at the best of times, but to do this during a cost of living crisis, and when public pressure led to inflation-linked benefits and pensions both rising with inflation, is unforgivable. 

“At best, it’s a careless decision – at worst, it’s downright neglectful.” 

When asked if this could deter students from attending university/further education, Tom said: “It’s hard to say how it will impact the thinking of prospective students, but I’d say it’s fairly inevitable that it will lead to some of those currently at uni having to drop out. 

“The government’s own equality analysis found that the pitiful increase to loans will have the largest impact on students from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds, who are typically less able to rely on parental support to make ends meet.

“This is a regressive move in and of itself, but it also flies in the face of the government’s aims to ‘level up’ and makes the decision even more ludicrous.” 

He said when asked how many signatures it is hoped the petition will receive: “We’d love as many signatures as possible. 

“At 10,000 signatures the government has to respond to the petition, and at 100,000 the cause is considered for a debate in parliament. 

“But we also need people to spread the word – public pressure is the key to making a change, and if people keep raising the issue, the government will find it harder to dismiss the thousands of signatures we already have.” 

When asked if he expected the government to amend their decision, Tom replied: “Given that pensions and inflation-linked benefits are both set to rise with inflation, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask the same for Maintenance Loans – particularly as these are designed to be paid back anyway. 

“But there was a lot of public pressure for these changes, so people need to sign and share the petition, and raise awareness of the issue.” 

Education is a public good and should be treated as such

MP for Nottingham East, Nadia Whittome, agrees with the petition and calls for motion to be debated in parliament to put pressure on the government to act.

Nadia discussed how it’s “long been the case” that students struggle to make ends meet during university but that some of the stories she’s heard recently “have been particularly shocking. With one survey finding that one in four students reporting they are in danger of dropping out of university due to financial pressure”. 

When asked how Nadia Whittome would reform the current student finance system, she argued that the “government should be providing proper grants that actually meet the cost of living as a student, instead of insufficient loans”. She is also “in favour of scrapping tuition fees” arguing that “education is a public good and should be treated as such”. 

What the Nottingham universities have to say….

A spokesperson from the University of Nottingham said: “The University of Nottingham has increased its Student Hardship Fund by 50% to £750,000 to provide grants and interest free loans to any student who is experiencing financial difficulties, as well as providing access to cheaper food options on campus, free kitchens, shower facilities, heated study spaces and period products. Students can find out more about the University’s support for them at https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/studentservices/money/cost-of-living.aspx

“The University is also working hard to shield students from significant price rises during the current cost-of-living crisis and has absorbed all cost increases for University accommodation this year rather than pass them onto students. We have also fixed 2023/24 increases in accommodation charges to 5% – the same level as last year – at a time when inflation was running at more than 12%.

“We are continuing to lobby the government for further support for students through our roles in Universities UK and the Russell Group. Together, universities can be a powerful lobby and we are collectively calling on government to: provide targeted hardship funding for UK students; reinstate maintenance grants for those most in need; ensure that support for students is protected against inflation; increase financial support for postgraduate researchers; and ensuring that any government action to support people with rising costs, such as energy, can be accessed by students across the UK, including those in halls.”

A Nottingham Trent University spokesperson said: “We recognise the impact that the increases in the cost of living can have on our students and we work in partnership with our students’ union to understand the kind of support needed. We provide a range of advice and guidance around managing money whilst studying and information about deals, perks and discounts.

“We regularly promote all that we offer to ensure that students know how we can help them. We have increased our hardship funds, have frozen prices at all our catering outlets and provide free fruit on campus. We have also targeted support for those most in need, such as bursaries or food parcels. We are also funding the costs of graduation gowns for all of our final year students.

“We’ll continue to listen to our students to ensure that we are doing all that we can to support them in the most appropriate way.”

Laura Scaife, Adam Eaton and Will Hugall

To read more about what our Project Winter investigations revealed, click here.

Featured image courtesy of Rucsandra Moldoveanu. Permission to use granted to Impact.

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