Rising cost of living ‘forcing students to use food banks’


Growing numbers of students are turning to food banks as they struggle to afford to feed themselves, leaders of the National Union of Students (NUS) will warn on Monday.

The call for action on student poverty comes as one institution – in Hull, where the students’ union offers food parcels to those in need with the backing of the university – said the numbers taking advantage of its service have doubled in the past 12 months to 200.

Many other universities are now considering setting up their own schemes, Brittany Tomlinson, the NUS student welfare officer at Hull University, told The Independent.

“Last year it was nearly 100,” she said of demand for food parcels. “This year it has gone up to 200. The reasons are the rise in the cost of living and also some students are getting their student loans quite late. We’re lucky here with the support we’ve got for the food-parcel service from the university,” she said.

“There is no question that this is a growing trend. I know five or six unions [at different universities] across the country which are planning to do something.”

Colum McGuire, vice-president of the NUS, said: “Student unions have been in touch with us to raise the alarm that there is an increase in the number of students using food banks. We are really concerned about this.

“We all know that students incur an automatic debt by choosing education but what I don’t think people know enough about is the day-to-day cost of living.

“People are struggling... Our members report that they have to provide food parcels to students who literally cannot afford to eat.”

In addition to the Hull initiative, further education students at Walsall College in the west Midlands have begun issuing vouchers to allow three-days’ emergency access to the Black Country Food Bank. The college is also offering free breakfasts.

At Wolverhampton, the university is offering free loans to first-year students who are experiencing delays with funding.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said a higher number of disadvantaged students than ever were going to university, adding: “Over half a million are eligible for more non-repayable grants for living costs in 2012-13 than the previous year and almost  1 million students are eligible for more maintenance support in 2012-13 than students were in 2011-12... Young people don’t have to pay upfront to go to university.”

A spokeswoman for the Student Loans Company said there had been no delays to payments, but there was a surge of late applications by students “even after term started”.

In October and November, it received 70,000 applications “meaning many students were starting university without having their finances in place as they hadn’t submitted an application to us”.

* A university chaplain has told how he has referred five students to food banks within his city in the past fortnight.

Sunderland University chaplain, Reverend Chris Howson, said he had seen a record number of people having to resort to using food banks in the past year. 

He was speaking as four workers from Sunderland Minster went hungry for a day to highlight the plight of people living on the breadline.

“The Minster has had to deal with a record number of people going hungry,” he said. “The bigger picture is the massive need for food banks.

“We want to make the point that in the UK today no-one should have to rely on food parcels.  In universities across the country, students are having to take food out (from food banks).”