Students demanded cost-of-living support on Tuesday afternoon at a rally organised by the National Union of Students (NUS).
On the same day that the Welsh Government published its Draft Budget for 2023/24, speakers urged ministers to act by boosting student finance and cutting costs including rent and transport.
Many Welsh Government Ministers and Members of the Senedd have expressed empathy to the immense difficulties being faced by students in higher and further education, as well as apprentices, and many came to talk to students at the rally on Tuesday to hear their story first hand.
But warm words have not led to tangible financial support for students and learners. NUS is disappointed not to see specific financial support for students and learners in the draft budget, especially given that many previous policy interventions from government do not reach students – given that they do not pay council tax, nor can they access Universal Credit.
The rally comes as students continue to struggle with rising living costs. A recent survey of more than 521 students in Wales found that more than a quarter are living on £50 or less a month after paying rent and bills.
A shocking 57% of students are cutting back on food to make ends meet, and with freezing temperatures hitting, 47% say they’re heating their homes less.
Speakers at the rally included the President of NUS Wales, Orla Tarn, and Plaid Cymru MS Sioned Williams, whose party is supporting students’ calls for a rent freeze
Orla Tarn, NUS Wales President, said:
“I am disappointed by the draft budget. Once again students and learners have been ignored and continue to be frozen out of Cost-of-Living support, with no specific provision for students and learners, and a reduction in the allocation for student support grants.
“As students, our message is clear: the cost-of-living crisis is leaving us at breaking point. Yet we continue to be forgotten by governments and frozen out of support schemes. Inflation is in double figures, energy bills are double last winter, and student rent is rising higher than house prices, yet student loans have only increased 3.5%.
“Our student finance package might be the most generous in the UK, but that means absolutely nothing when more than half of learners in Wales are having to cut back on food. For a Labour Government here in Wales, to be slightly better than the Tory Government in Westminster is not an ambition, nor should it ever be.
"It’s time for Welsh Government to step up and deliver a student support package, including cost of living payments, rent freezes, and free transport to make sure students can thrive, and not just survive, here in Wales.”
Sioned Williams MS, Plaid Cymru Spokesperson for Post-16 Education, said:
“The National Union of Students Wales's survey clearly shows that the impact of the cost-of-living crisis is as bad, if not worse, than the effects of COVID on too many of our students.
“Plaid Cymru calls on both the UK and Welsh Governments to acknowledge this, and to provide additional support either directly or through university hardship funds to help them through this difficult period particularly, to make up for the fact that the student finance package is completely inadequate as a result of inflation.
“Transport costs and sky-high rents, as well as expanding eligibility to cost of living support schemes must be looked at urgently. It was disappointing that this wasn’t addressed in the draft budget announced on Tuesday.”