The government must provide extra financial support for students and graduates who don’t have family to help them out
As the Covid-19 crisis took hold of the nation, there was a mass exodus of students from university campuses as most followed orders to go home. Yet for around 8,000 young people without family networks to rely on, it wasn’t so easy. These students had no choice but to remain on campus and live in the eerie remnants of what was once a thriving academic population. There is no doubt they are vulnerable: survivors of abuse, trauma, LGBT+ rejection and severely challenging family dynamics.
Not only have these students lost their community, but new survey data shows that they have also lost their jobs. This is troubling as we know that students who have no family support rely heavily on part-time work to meet their living costs – and these problems will become even more acute as we move into the summer period. My own research has consistently found that young people who are estranged from family rely on full-time work over the summer to meet the entirety of their living costs since there is no statutory finance.
We must not forget that there are no parents to step in and offer support, and data shows only a minority have received support from the government furlough schemes. It has now been a month since student loans payments have run out. When there’s no work around, what happens? Many are unable to pay their rent, or afford the basics, such as food and bills. A number are considering dropping out simply to access universal credit, which they are not entitled to as students.
Students without family networks who are graduating this year will be unable to find their feet in society without immediately finding graduate work or employment. The material cliff edge they typically face, in transitioning from university support into the job market, is hard enoughin a normal year and has just been made more formidable with the influence of the Covid-19 crisis.
These vulnerable young people should instead be able to turn to the government. Ministers could, in the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, extend student finance, which could be paid over the summer period or on graduation. Yet when pushed, the government has avoided any concrete courses of action, and has not committed funds to the plight of these young people, who will soon become destitute over the summer. They have instead leaned heavily on universities to assist with their ever-decreasing hardship funds, when evidence is showing that there isn’t enough to go around.
This is not good enough – it’s a pattern in policymaking that has to change. Because a young person is a student, and enrolled at university, it should not exempt the government from responsibility for their welfare or allocating funds to help them. If governments truly believe in social mobility and widening participation, it should pursue the opposite approach. This is not a problem that universities can or should face alone. The difficulties that young people without family networks face in university, during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond, is one for us all to understand and morally support, particularly ministers.
Becca Bland is the chief executive of Stand Alone