Student Minds join 19 charities in writing an open letter to the Prime Minster about the cost-of-living crisis.
In the UK the cost-of-living crisis runs deep in every community and is having a significant impact on mental health.
High levels of inflation affect everyone as the price of necessities including food and energy increase. However, the impact is not felt equally. We know those already experiencing inequality, poverty and hardship are being hardest hit. And poverty is the single biggest driver of poor mental health in children.
We also know that people living in the most deprived 10% of areas in the UK are more than twice as likely to die from suicide than those living in the wealthiest 10% of areas.
In 2022 the Trussell Trust who provide emergency support to people in crisis issued 1.3 million food parcels between April and September. 94% of people accessing emergency food parcels are experiencing destitution. That means they are well below the poverty line and cannot afford the essentials to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean.
This should worry us all. It is a shameful and unnecessary situation in the UK. As leaders of mental health organisations there is growing demand for our services. We will, of course, continue to do our absolute best to provide the necessary support.
But we want to be crystal clear: the first intervention to reduce mental ill health and prevent suicide is to ensure every household has the means to be safe and warm with enough to eat. We urge the Prime Minister to act with speed and compassion to tackle the root causes of destitution and in doing so prevent suicide and an inevitable rise in mental ill health.
Julie Bentley, Samaritans
Simon Blake OBE, Mental Health First Aid England
Sophie Corlett, Mind
Brian Dow, Mental Health UK
Sean Duggan OBE, Mental Health Network, NHS Confederation
Akiko Hart, National Survivor User Network
Victoria Hornby OBE, Mental Health Innovations
Dr Sarah Hughes, Centre for Mental Health
Poppy Jaman OBE, MindForward Alliance
Dr Adrian James, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Tom Madders, Young Minds
Chris Martin, The Mix
Paula Ojok, Helplines Partnership
Kathy Roberts, Association of Mental Health Providers
Catherine Roche, Place2Be
Mark Rowland, Mental Health Foundation
Michael Samuel MBE, Anna Freud Centre
Rosie Tressler OBE, Student Minds
Mark Winstanley, Rethink Mental Illness
More needs to be done. Student Minds call for support for students through the cost of living crisis.
At Student Minds, we are calling on policymakers to act urgently to support students through the ongoing cost of living crisis. We have approached a range of MPs in government and the opposition; so far, the lack of response from elected officials has been completely inadequate. Students have been forgotten about amongst the political instability, but they are facing the financial and mental health impacts of the crisis right now, and they have been for months. We are joining voices from across the sector to demand better.
There is strong evidence to demonstrate that in the United Kingdom, students who experience financial difficulties are more likely to experience poor mental health, such as depression, anxiety, and substance misuse (1). Recent research shows that 67% of students surveyed have suffered with mental health issues due to their financial situation (2). In addition, students having financial difficulties, on average, have worse academic outcomes, which is a source of further distress and perpetuates poor mental wellbeing. This all comes in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which already posed significant financial challenges for students and their families. Beyond the immediate financial harm of the cost-of-living crisis, we are deeply worried that these conditions will create worse mental health outcomes among our student population in the longer term.
Students have felt the squeeze of the cost-of-living crisis, but most of the help arranged by previous governments is not available to them. The prices of staple foods, such as bread and pasta, have risen by sixty-percent and forty-percent respectively in the last twelve months (3), while energy bills are set to increase by thousands of pounds, again, in April. Policy interventions such as council tax rebates, and the reversal of the national insurance levy, will make no difference to full-time students, who are already exempt from paying Council Tax, and typically won’t earn enough to make National Insurance contributions. Students have shared with us how expensive it is becoming for them just to participate in their studies, such as for medical students who have to pay hospital parking charges. Despite all this, students still have to buy groceries and pay their rent and energy bills, and are doing so without the financial support available to other segments of the population.
We are asking the government to immediately intervene to develop targeted financial help for students to address the spiralling cost of living. Particularly, we recommend that the government:
Our recommendations echo those already made by key higher education sector bodies such as Universities UK and the National Union of Students. We have been disappointed by the minimal engagement we have received from politicians, despite reaching out to stress the urgency of the situation. Student mental health cannot wait. We need the government, opposition, and every public representative to take student mental health seriously, which means taking swift action to address the cost-of-living crisis.
Universities must also play a part. We have been encouraged to see good practice at various universities and SUs, such as cheap hot meal schemes and textbook swap events. However, we think more can be done. While we cannot fully tackle this issue without government intervention, higher education providers can take these measures to support students through the cost of living crisis:
This is not just a question of student finances, but student mental health. In the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, students were already in a compromised position, having dealt with years of economic hardship, political instability, and missed opportunities. They deserve better, and we need your help to make this happen, to protect student mental health now, and in the future.
Help us advocate for better student mental health in the cost-of-living crisis:
If you are a student affected by the issues raised, or are struggling with your mental health, Student Space is here to help. Whether it’s your mental health, your studies, money, housing or relationships, we’re here to support you.
Earlier this year, the independent regulator for higher education, the Office for Students (OfS), opened a consultation on proposed changes to the National Student Survey (NSS). This included a proposal to introduce a new question around how well mental wellbeing support services are communicated to students.
As the UK’s student mental health charity, we recognised the importance of engaging with this consultation, to share our insight and feedback. Our full response to the consultation is available to read on our website.
As outlined in our response, we welcomed the proposal that a question on mental health and wellbeing be added to the NSS. However, we had concerns around the framing of the proposed question and therefore the usefulness of the data that responses would provide. The sole focus of the proposed question being the communication of support services means that responses would not give any insight into the prevalence of mental health issues amongst students, nor the factors shaping students’ wellbeing, or even the efficacy of support services themselves. With this in mind, our response proposed that the framing of the question be shifted, to better reflect the importance of a whole university approach to mental health and to capture more useful insights to inform both the sector and individual institutions.
At the end of October, the OfS published an analysis of responses to the consultation, alongside their decisions. We were particularly pleased to see that there was much support across the sector for the inclusion of a question on mental health and wellbeing. This is a welcome sign that the higher education sector is moving towards adopting a whole university approach to mental health. However, we are disappointed that, despite ‘a number of respondents commenting on the appropriateness of the focus of the question’, the OfS has chosen to go ahead with asking the question around wellbeing as originally proposed.
Student Minds recognises that consultations such as this one often receive extensive and detailed feedback from stakeholders, and that substantive change following a consultation isn’t always feasible. On this occasion however, we echo the concerns of other stakeholders in our sector and question the decisions made in response to this consultation, which received rich, high-quality feedback from experts in a number of areas.
As a sector, it’s vital that we continue to work together, collaborate and take on feedback from one another in order to prioritise students and ensure their experience at university is a positive one. Without this, we risk losing out on opportunities to better understand and improve students’ experience and wellbeing.
As such, we’d like to reiterate our openness for collaboration and willingness to engage in conversations around understanding student mental health and wellbeing. We hope there will be opportunities to develop this question set in the NSS in the future.