According to a survey carried out by the National Union of Students, 80% of the student population are worried about how they will manage financially as a result of the coronavirus. Further findings are highlighted below:
• 62% of students sampled hold jobs of some sort alongside their courses, and of these 87% have had to make adjustments to their working since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to a reduction of income (meaning many are experiencing a negative impact on their finances).
• 1 in 10 have lost their jobs, had their hours reduced and have had to take unpaid leave.
• 55% of students say that the income of someone who supports them financially has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with 1 in 5 saying it has had a major impact.
• 4 out of 5 students are worried about their ability to manage financially during the pandemic. 1 in 5 are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ concerned.
• Students can’t claim benefits so are at an added disadvantage.
At present, in order to access the Hardship Funds at UCLan, it states that you must complete the Blackbullion Budgeting Module (it is estimated that this takes 22 minutes to complete).
Why is this not working?
As a widening participation university, UCLan is host to students who have families and have survived on budgets for years, students who can’t even fully pay for their rent without working let alone being able to afford food or medicine and students from low socio-economic areas that have been devastated by the pandemic. These are not students who need lessons in budgeting (if anything they should be teaching these lessons) but these are students for which governmental assistance through benefits is not available. In short, to force students to take a module in budgeting whilst the country is in turmoil is not only offensive but dangerous and acts as a barrier to hardship funds set up that help students in need.
This is dangerous on three levels:
1. Students disengage with the university support systems and in turn leave university.
2. Students fall into severe hardship.
3. Students utilise alternate but dangerous means of accessing help - payday loans, loan sharks and gambling.
In addition, students throughout the process have disclosed to me as the Disabled Students’ Rep that when they have spoken with the i, staff have proceeded to judge their financial statements in an unfair manner. For some mental health illnesses, engaging in risky behaviour such as impulsive spending is a symptom of a manic episode - this means that when staff are making these comments, they are in fact criticising a symptom of an illness that cannot be helped and again, students feel less encouraged to seek support from the university.
What do we want to change?
This big idea proposes that the university ensures that the Blackbullion Budgeting module is not mandatory and makes this clear to students in their applications. It must also be made clear that this is not a requirement to those who approve cases and that cases should not be turned down due to not engaging with the module.
We want all staff involved with student hardship cases to undergo training around mental health and finances and to see appropriate guidance for staff put in place for when applications are discussed with students.
We also want the university to understand contextual hardship as not all students pay £89 per week and should factor the rental expenditure of the student on a case-by-case basis.
We want the Blackbullion module to be advertised to all students at the beginning of the year, not just when someone faces hardship.
Why should you vote for this idea?
We all know what it is like to be struggling financially, not everyone can ask their family or friends for help for many reasons. We also know how demoralising it is to ask for help, to be rejected and to be given information/sent on training that we didn’t need or ask for.
Let’s make a change so that students can be truly supported by UCLan.
Please vote for this idea.