Over a third of students reported going without food in 2016.

As the last remaining re-sits and deferred examinations take place, it could be assumed many University students are looking forward to a long summer break. No doubt this conjures ideas of backpacking around European youth hostels. For a lucky few this is the case. However for far too many students, the coming summer will only exacerbate the financial issues they have been facing throughout the year. The reality is that student food poverty is becoming a depressingly common fact of life during term time; the holidays are pinch points where what support there is ceases.

Student food poverty
Over a third of students reported going without food in 2016. Students should be able to study and prepare for the lives ahead of them without having to worry about where the next meal is coming from. Yet after 3 years of rent increases and little to no rise in either the minimum wage and many of the maintenance loan and grant programmes, many students are facing a crisis.

This crisis has been caused by many of the factors that have seen a rise in food poverty across the United Kingdom; the all too present factors of little to wage increases combined with ever-increasing costs associated with housing in the rented sector has, unfortunately, left many struggling to put food on the table from all walks of life, although student issues are not often discussed or considered. Discriminatory minimum wage differences combined with a job market ever more reliant on zero-hours contracts have left many students with unreliable hours for incredibly low pay, leaving those lucky to find employment unable to cover the basics. We add to this the rise in rents, especially for flats and houses targeted at students. Rents for student accommodation at the University of Stirling, for example, have risen above the rate of inflation for the last 10 years, and the failure of the government to implement any meaningful increase to maintenance loans, most notably those administered by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland, has left students trapped in the middle and for many, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, on the verge of if not in food poverty in order to make rent. The long-term solutions lie in proper reform of how the government supports students, as well as broader schemes such as a proper living wage, but unfortunately for many students cannot wait for the political climate to become accommodating.

Students turning to co-operative solutions
That’s why many students are turning to co-operative solutions to blunt the worst outcomes in the short term, as well as improve student lives as a whole. Students in universities across the country have established co-operative fresh food shops, such as at the University of Nottingham, ensuring that high-quality, healthy food is available to students at affordable prices, not only helping to tackle the issue of food poverty head on but building up helpful communities based on mutual aid and cooperative values. Additionally, cooperative student housing is on the rise, with the success of the Edinburgh student housing co-op providing a way forward to groups in many universities, including my own, who are seeking to ensure student housing is high quality and most importantly affordable.

Doubtless student poverty isn’t as newsworthy as pensioner or child poverty. The upsurge in co-operative solutions is indicative of students’ energy and innovation and we can to some extent limit the damage that the broken system of student finance is inflicting on people.

But be under no illusion, student food poverty may be a hidden crisis, but it is nonetheless a crisis which needs government action.