Students’ Associations Foodbank Use Up – and Stretched
Media Release – Wednesday 18 September 2012
Students’ Associations Foodbank Use Up – and Stretched – NZUSA Survey
New Zealand tertiary students’ finances are at a crisis point – if use of the country’s students’ associations’ Foodbanks offer any indication.
This information has come to light as a result of a survey recently conducted by New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA). [See also "OUSA Supports NZUSA Student Food Bank Findings" bit.ly/1aIYjM5]
The survey, conducted by NZUSA of 17 students’ organisations highlight the stresses that students are under as they bear the brunt of rising living costs set against a sinking lid on allowances.
Thousands of tertiary students are finding that they don’t have anywhere else to turn. More than 4000 food parcels or grocery vouchers were distributed last year and NZUSA estimates that Tertiary Education Institutions (TEI’s) also distributed as much as $4 million last year in emergency assistance.
“These figures are too high,” says Pete Hodkinson, President of New Zealand Union of Student Associations.
”The current Government has made cuts to student support every year since 2008, and while the government claims that they are each small cuts, the cumulative effect on students who struggle to make ends meet is seriously underestimated.
“The potential for this to worsen is reflected in the fact that some students are living in what can only be described as sub-standard accommodation and not eating nutritional meals – something that the Massey University/ Westpac Centre for Financial Literacy also found this year when its survey indicated that the diets of more than a third of students had been affected by a lack of funds”.
Problems for students have also been caused by excessive delays by the government organisation that distributes student allowances and loans, Studylink. NZUSA’s research shows that Studylink simply hasn’t had the systems or the people to cope and students have borne the brunt of this.
Hodkinson notes that even the junior wing of the government’s own party, the Young Nationals, launched a campaign targeting StudyLink’s poor performance.
“Paula Bennett, as the Minister in charge, needs to front up to this country’s students and apologise for problems caused by the failure to resource StudyLink adequately,” says Hodkinson.
A particular issue that NZUSA is concerned about is that when students aren’t able to finance their living expenses through available means, a small but significant number have sought finance through the loan sharks in the secondary market.
“Given that the government neglected a chance to regulate this sector, the responsibility falls on them two-fold,” says Hodkinson.
Mature students, often studying while also trying to bring up children and pay off mortgages are really hurting from the cutbacks to student support access.
“Reducing the ability of mature students to access allowances, at the same time as restricting or even blocking their access to Student Loans, sees students’ financial hardship also affecting children and other dependents. This despite the fact that study after study shows tertiary education is a direct route to breaking out of a cycle of poverty, for both the parents and their dependents”, said Hodkinson.
The NZUSA Foodbank and Hardship survey shows that the support available is genuinely needed, with financial help often tied to receiving budgetary advice and other support.
“It’s not that students make choices – other than to study – that get them into trouble, it’s just that student support isn’t enough to live on and more and more students are struggling to find sufficient work to cover the shortfall,” said Hodkinson.
As well as the foodbanks and hardship provision, and despite their own precarious positions since the advent of voluntary membership, students’ associations are looking to expand their activities to help support desperate students.
For example, the Auckland University Students Association recently developed a scheme encouraging fellow students who have a spare $1 or $2 to donate to the AUSA Welfare Fund.
It’s time for Steven Joyce, Minister for Tertiary Education, to also show that he also cares about the welfare of students and their families. .