From education to employment

Rising cost of living increases pressure on parents with children at university

Students sat on steps looking at laptop

With UK inflation at a three-decade high, new independent research* commissioned by Unite Students, the UK’s largest provider of student accommodation, shows that parents are feeling the impact of the rising cost of living, with over a third (36%) struggling to financially support their child through university.

With most parents not only needing to find extra cash for their own household bills, but also helping children living away at university, the data reveals high levels of financial anxiety being experienced by both parents and students. Polling 1,000 first, second and third-year undergraduate students, and 1,000 parents and guardians, today’s research shows 73% of parents and 66% of students are extremely worried about escalating costs.

As the cost of living continues to climb, 50% of students and 41% of parents have said that financial issues are affecting their mental health. 54% of parents believe that the increasing cost of living is putting strain on family life.

The research has revealed that on average, parents give their children £249.02 each month to help them cover the cost of living while at university. Further findings have shown that parents are expecting their own household expenditure to increase by more than 14% on average in the coming year. Almost one in ten (9%) of the parents surveyed are anticipating their expenditure to rise by more than 30% this year. 

With costs mounting, common concerns amongst parents include:

  • 55% are worrying that the increasing cost of living will impact their ability to financially support their child at university
  • 36% are struggling to financially support their child while they’re at university

Just over two-thirds (68%) of parents would encourage their child to get a part-time job alongside their studies to help ease the pressure of rising costs of living.

As many parents dig deep in order to support their children, two fifths (43%) of students have said they’re worried about the financial strain their university experience is putting on their parents or guardians. However, 37% of students don’t think their parents or guardians understand what they need to spend money on to survive while at university. 29% of students say they’re actively hiding debt from family and friends.

While over half of students (52%) are happy to ask for financial support from their parents once a month or more, almost a third (32%) said they’ve had to increase the amount of hours they work alongside studies to help keep themselves afloat financially.

Part-time employment has long been regarded as part of the student experience and a step towards financial independence. Unite Students’ research found that almost half (49%) of students have part-time jobs, and a further 15% now plan to get one.

Of those already undertaking part time work, the majority (64%) are working seven hours or more each week alongside their studies. However, this too is a cause of worry, as 61% of students, and 49% of parents are concerned about the impact part-time jobs could be having on academic studies.

With students and their parents both finding the increasing cost of living difficult to shoulder, many have started to explore different options to financially support either themselves or their children through university.

To make ends meet, parents are exploring different options to make additional cash:

  • 28% are picking up extra hours at work
  • 10% have resorted to taking out a bank loan
  • 3% are re-mortgaging their home 
  • 5% have invested in cryptocurrency
  • 3% have said they’re gambling to help raise funds

Meanwhile, students are also turning to a range of income streams:

  • 25% have taken out an overdraft
  • 32% are selling their possessions
  • 8% have signed up for scientific or clinical trials
  • 11% have invested money in the stock market
  • 10% have set up cryptocurrency accounts
  • 8% trying to become social media influencers
  • 9% admit turning to gambling
  • 4% have signed up to a sugar daddy/mummy website  

One parent concerned about the continued rise in the cost of living is self-employed dance teacher Marianne Amos, 57, of Kent, whose youngest daughter, Christianna (18), is currently studying Politics and International Relations in her first year at University of East Anglia, Norwich. Marianne, a former school governor, said:

“My husband and I are both self-employed and extremely sensible with money – but I am worried about the impact this financial crisis will have on my daughter while she’s at university. Christianna’s just started a new job to help raise additional cash. I didn’t go to university myself, but I firmly believe that the whole student experience, and learning to budget to pay for gas, shopping and electricity bills, for example, are really important life skills. Being self-employed, I have a good degree of control over my income and can simply adjust my teaching hours to increase my income. In many ways, I’m very lucky. Unfortunately, not everyone is in that position – there needs to be more to support students and families who are struggling.”

One student concerned about the increasing cost of living is Ashlea Davies (20), a third-year Criminology and Sociology student at Liverpool John Moores University. She said:

“I’m not comfortable relying on my family for financial support, despite the cost-of-living increases having a big impact on me – particularly when it comes to petrol and food. I’m very aware of needing to work if I want to be able to buy things, but I’ve had to significantly reduce my hours because juggling work and my studies was becoming unmanageable. At the end of the day, it was my choice to go to university, and despite the amount of debt I’ll be in when I finish my degree, I wouldn’t do anything differently if given the opportunity.”

Vivi Friedgut, founder and CEO of Blackbullion, the financial wellbeing company for students, said:

“The rising cost of living is reshaping the everyday lives of students, and their caregivers, and having a real impact on mental wellbeing, physical health and university experience. We are calling on the government, while working with higher education institutions, to pay urgent attention to ways to support students with soaring inflation, increased financial pressure and worries about money. In the meantime, there are also steps that students and their caregivers can take to help mitigate the consequences of inflation and try to extract as much value from every pound as possible.”

Karan Khanna, Chief Customer Officer at Unite Students, said:

“As the leading provider of affordable student accommodation in the UK, we are very aware of the cost-of-living pressures faced by students and their parents. We look to provide advice and support as students navigate money management and the transition to the world of work. Unlike most traditional house-shares where landlord costs are increasing, our students will not have to pay more for their heating, electricity, water, or high-speed Wi-Fi connection. Hopefully this offers additional reassurance to parents who are most likely feeling the strain of managing their own household bills.”

To help those who might be struggling to cope financially, Unite Students has created a free downloadable guide: “The climbing cost of living: Financial tips for students and parentsavailable here. This includes financial tips from Blackbullion along with other useful information and support tools for both students and their parents.

*Research commissioned by Unite Students, and undertaken by Censuswide, surveying 1,000 undergraduates (first, second and third-year students), and 1,000 parents or guardians of undergraduates across the UK in March 2022.

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