New survey results show many students resorting to extreme measures to cope with difficult financial situations, including theft, sex work, and drug dealing.
The survey, conducted by The Student Room last month, found that one third of students report going without food, while 30% report having stolen food, money or electrical equipment.
41 per cent of respondents reported knowing someone who has sold drugs to cope with living costs.
35 per cent knew someone who has worked as an exotic dancer or escort.
30 per cent knew someone in a relationship with a ‘sugar daddy’ or ‘sugar mummy’.
The survey polled 860 students between 16 and 25-years-old throughout the month of December.
In interviews with The Student, students across the UK recounted tales of financial hardship at university.
One third-year student at the University of Wolverhampton, who requested anonymity due to legal uncertainty of their actions, told The Student “we all feed each other if anyone’s skint, same with going out – other people get them drinks and pay entry fee”.
The student also recalled: “I remember in my first year that my friends who lived in a house didn’t turn the heating on because it was too expensive… and they’d shower a lot less too”.
Another third-year student at the University of Edinburgh, who also requested anonymity, told The Student that he and several others regularly ‘bin dive’ or go ‘skipping’ to help alleviate financial strain.
“Usually I go skipping twice a week, and the financial side is a big incentive because we usually find high-quality food that we might not otherwise afford alongside staple foods like bags of potatoes, vegetables, flour and sugar”.
The student clarified: “it’s not a financial necessity for me, because my student loan just about covers living, but I’ve met people whilst down at the bins who are doing it because they can’t afford to pay rent and eat. It definitely eases financial stress, though.”
However, the student noted, “it isn’t always reliable to live off because every now and again the bins might just be empty for several days”.
Rhiannon Jones, a third-year student at the University of East Anglia, told The Student that while she had not experienced severe financial hardship herself, she was aware of those who have. Speaking of her own financial situation, she criticised the English student maintenance system.
“It works on the assumption that parents will subsidise their children, and that is simply not the case for many students, no matter how high their parents’ income is,” she told The Student.
She continued: “for example, my parents’ cumulative income puts me in the lowest bracket for the amount of money I’m entitled to; but there is no infrastructure in place to discern that I have three siblings, all of whom have been subsidised by my parents, meaning that my parents have to make heavy financial sacrifices in order to help me”.
“The system just should not work on the premise that parents will be subsidising their adult children,” Jones added.
Responding to the findings of the survey, Hannah Morrish, university community manager at The Student Room said: “what this research goes to show is how vulnerable many students are, not just financially, but socially as well”.
She advised “for any students who are struggling to make ends meet, we want to stress there is an active and easy-to-access support network available; from applying for student hardship funds from universities through to independent and anonymous financial advice forums, such as The Student Room.”
“Students’ unions, the student advice centre at your university, The Money Charity, National Debtline are all great starting places for debt counselling and money management advice”.
The latest statistics have been corroborated by the results of the Save the Student 2015 Student Money Survey.
That survey found that 2 in 3 students struggle to live off their maintenance loan. 80% said that they worry about finance; 48% of whom feel that this affects their studies and 63% reporting that it affects their diet.
One participant commented “those whose parents are high earners are suffering in uni. We are adults and should not be judged based on somebody else’s earnings”. Another said “my maintenance loan doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of the cheapest uni accommodation, let alone general living”.
Some students also delved into the problems associated with having to work part-time whilst studying.
One said: “sometimes I have to work more than I attend classes just so I can afford to stay in uni”. Another commented “I have had no choice but to get a job. I don’t believe that full-time students also have to get a part-time job!”.
Other students thought the problem was overblown.
“The benefits of graduating with a degree and gaining a well paid career far outweigh the negatives of living with a limited amount of money,” one participant wrote.
Image: Andrew Perry