Rising numbers of NI students relying on food banks amid cost of living crisis (2024)

Rising numbers of students in Northern Ireland are relying on food banks to make ends meet amid the cost of living crisis, it has been revealed.

The latest figures from the National Union of Students show that 14% of students have used food banks in the 2023/24 academic year - double the rate it was in 2022. Additionally, after housing costs, 45% of students live on less than £50 per month after housing costs.

Universities have been working hard to alleviate financial pressures on students through hardship funds and food drives. At Ulster University, over the past academic year, an on-campus food bank has been in place to provide students with unsold food from the catering facilities.

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The university has also been running a free breakfast scheme this year, with around 6,000 cups of tea, 2,250 bowls of porridge, 2,000 litres of milk, and 7,750 cereal bars provided to students.

Ethan Davies, president of Ulster University Student's Union, told Belfast Live they are calling on local politicians to act on the student cost of living crisis, and stated that students make up 10% of the voting population and could have a big impact on the outcome of this year's election.

On the impact of rising costs for students, Ethan said: "When I was still a student, the cost of living crisis was a huge problem on campus. The Union had a small section of food with cereals, porridges, things people could grab and would last long so people aren't under a time pressure to eat it.

"Whenever we would do free breakfasts and lunches every time without fail we would run out. There would be such demand as people wouldn't want to waste the money they really need by buying food.

"Students are paying a metric tonne in tuition fees and housing, they're having to pay so much more on top of food prices. They were already increasing before the cost of living crisis and matters have gotten drastically worse.

"Budgeting classes are useful but what we need to see is actionable change as opposed to just 'here's how you make a really cheap meal.' We shouldn't be putting students in that financial situation where they're having to make a meal that's worth less than a pound a day."

Rising numbers of NI students relying on food banks amid cost of living crisis (1)

Ethan said the fact students are left with £50 per month after housing costs is "ridiculous" and many are struggling to get through their degrees due to the constant financial stress and pressure they're under.

"It's harder being a student today than it was 20 years ago because you're paying so much more for everything," he added.

"Doing your degree might be a bit easier because of the technology available to you and the resources available to you may make getting a higher grade a bit easier. But there's no point in saying I was getting firsts but had to drop out in second year because I couldn't afford it.

"We're having students taking out hardship funds and constantly going to student well-being saying they can't afford to live. It's frustrating because you're told if you stop spending money on the likes of coffee you'll be fine.

"But that's not the case - not spending three or four pounds a week on the occasional coffee isn't going to magically solve all my financial problems. Systematic reform of the educational financial system is going to do a much better job than that. I did a history degree - I didn't sign up to also be a part-time accountant."

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In the UK General Election, the NUS survey found the cost of living crisis is the main priority for students. Looking to the future, Ethan said they are keen to work with local politicians to find ways to alleviate financial pressure on students.

However, he is calling on politicians to visit universities and speak to students directly to find out how they are being impacted.

Ethan added: "We don't need an acknowledgement that we're in the cost of living crisis - we need something to be done about the cost of living crisis. It's great to see parties saying students are a priority, but we're not really seeing that at the ground level.

"I would love politicians to visit university campuses and ask if students are getting on okay. I guarantee, with the exception of students who are very fortunate to have support from their family that they don't have to worry as much about the financial burdens of university, your answer is going to be no. It's demoralising to be a student in the 21st century.

"We're looking at chatting with major parties across Northern Ireland and seeing if we can get cross-party support for free public transport for students from your registered home to your campus. That would take a huge financial pressure off students who can't afford to live up near campus."

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Rising numbers of NI students relying on food banks amid cost of living crisis (2024)

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