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Recession, bills, budget cuts bring students down

Recession, power bills and budget cuts bring students down

By Tim Miller, Critic

The current economic climate, coupled with other factors such as massive power bills and the axing of the Training Incentive Allowance (TIA), is putting pressure on some students.

OUSA Student Support Centre Student Advocate Tania Cumming says that there has been an increase in the number of students accessing the food bank over time, but that it has accelerated in recent weeks. A major cause appears to be students getting caught short after paying “enormous” power bills. “This is apparently due to power companies only doing actual meter readings every three months,” Cumming says. “For example, in the space of one week we had 11 students who needed to access the food bank after receiving power bills of over $1000 due to previous underestimated bills.”

There have been 151 withdrawals from the food bank so far this year, compared to 93 in all of 2008.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many students have been stung by big power bills. One student told Critic that their most recent bill was “a big shock” and had put pressure on other payments such as food and rent; however, they had not resorted to using the food bank. Cumming encourages students to be aware of the shortfalls of estimate power bills and, if they are concerned, to call their power company and provide the actual meter readings over the phone each month.

Cumming says that the “substantial increase” in the need for the food bank is stretching resources and consequently the normal food bank budget has been exceeded. “We are looking into ways to increase donations to our food bank so that we can continue to help all students who need our assistance,” she says.

Most students who have used the food bank say that they do not have a job to supplement their student allowance or loan. Due to the current economic climate, part-time jobs are in short supply, leaving more and more students without enough money to get by.

Adding to the strain, the Government has axed the TIA, which was given out to those already on benefits such as the Domestic Purposes Benefit who wanted to take on study. This issue made national headlines last week when Social Development Minister Paula Bennett released the personal details of two beneficiaries who had complained publicly about the cut.

Universities and student associations were not informed of the axing of the TIA until the start of the second semester, when those trying to apply for the allowance were told they were no longer able to receive it. Solo parents and invalid beneficiaries who are partway through degrees and are now under financial pressure may be forced to decide whether to continue or leave their tertiary study.

The food bank has seen an increased number of single parents accessing the centre’s service this semester.

OUSA President Edwin Darlow says that the Association has not yet had the chance to evaluate the effects of the change on those already in study, but is interested in hearing from affected people. “Beyond that, and in a more general sense, OUSA is concerned by any changes that have a negative impact upon people’s access to tertiary education,” Darlow says. “Those negative impacts are of particular concern when they largely affect those who are already in a difficult financial position.

“Now, more than ever, is the time to support those who find accessing education quite difficult. In that sense, the Government’s decision to scrap such an important allowance does not seem to fit in with their plan to keep Kiwis in productive work and education,” Darlow says.

[SIDEBAR]

WHERE: The Student Support Centre on Ethel Benjamin Place.

HOW: You must be an OUSA member with a current student ID card.

DONATE: Anyone can donate in the form of non-perishable products or supermarket vouchers.

DANCE: OUSA is participating in a 12-hour dance marathon in September alongside other community groups in order to fundraise for the food bank. If people want to be involved, they can they contact Student Support Centre Manager Amy Prebble at amy.prebble@ousa.org.nz.


This story was syndicated by the Aotearoa Student Press Association via Critic www.critic.co.nz


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