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Cross party call to ramp up support for students in crisis

@LibDems Education Spokesperson @LaylaMoran is leading a cross party campaign calling on the Government to help students who find themselves in “dire” circumstances, including taking action to prevent students become homeless, ramp up mental health support and offer COVID-19 Maintenance Grants. 

The cross-party group of MPs raise concerns that students who have “no support network” and “find themselves extremely isolated” are at risk of homelessness, and potentially unable to access essential medicine and food.

In a letter to the Chancellor, the group are demanding urgent action, in line with campaigns from Stand Alone, the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers (NNECL), Become, The Unite Foundation, and Spectra, including:  

  • Asking the Government to work with student accommodation providers and landlords to prevent students becoming homeless. 
  • Ensuring universities step up to provide support for students’ mental health through online counselling and peer-to-peer initiatives. 

The letter also reiterates previous calls for the introduction of a Covid-19 Maintenance Grant for students from low-income backgrounds or on low incomes.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran said:

“The situation for some university students has become dire, both for their finances and for their wellbeing. The Government needs to step up. That’s why I am calling on the Chancellor to set up a Coronavirus Maintenance Scheme for students on low incomes or from low-income backgrounds.

“In particular, I want to highlight the difficulty faced by students from care, or those estranged from their families, who now have no safety net to fall back on at all. They worked harder than most to get into higher education, and they deserve our support.

“If we can’t even protect our students from becoming homeless, then it’s clear that not enough is being done. That’s why the Government needs to widen its safety net to catch university students by setting up a Coronavirus Maintenance Scheme without delay.”
  
Layla Moran’s letter in full:
 
Dear Chancellor,
 
We are writing to you to highlight the financial and well-being difficulties that many higher education students that have experience of care or are estranged from their families find themselves in.
 
We have already called on you to introduce a ‘Covid-19 Maintenance Grant’ for students from low-income backgrounds or on low incomes, but we fear that the situation for some students has become so dire, both financially and with regard to their well-being, that we must go further.
 
A recent UK-wide survey of university and college students from such backgrounds found that nearly two thirds were worried about their capacity to pay rent and bills, and half of respondents were concerned about their ability to access essential foods and medicine. Furthermore, over half were concerned for their mental health as a result of isolation and feared whether or not they would finish their university course. This survey paints a troubling picture of the difficulties many students from disadvantaged backgrounds face and we write to you to intervene.
 
We must first protect students from homelessness. Many of the most vulnerable students now find themselves unemployed and ineligible for Universal Credit. A significant number are struggling to pay their rent and many tenancies will soon come to an end. These students cannot simply return to the family home and remain on campus year-round for the duration of their studies. Our proposed maintenance grant would be a first step in ensuring students can still afford to pay for their accommodation but does not protect them from eviction by student housing providers and landlords.
 
The Government must step in and work with universities to save students from homelessness with a combination of accommodation support and grants.
 
Students are also striving to maintain their mental health in these difficult times, but this has been much tougher for some than others. Staying at home to prevent the spread of the virus has been challenging for all of us but especially for those that have no support network. Many students that have no family or are estranged find themselves extremely isolated and on campus alone. Some universities have dedicated resources to support their students’ well-being but not all. We must ensure universities put in place programs to support their most vulnerable students through this incredibly difficult time and ensure they do not become ill as a result of this pandemic.
 
We continue to urge you to issue the ‘Covid-19 Maintenance Grant’ to stop students from falling into financial hardship during this crisis, but it has become increasing clear that this will not be enough to protect vulnerable students.
 
We therefore support calls from charities working in this area including Stand Alone, the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers (NNECL), Become, The Unite Foundation, and social value agency Spectra to implement not only the ‘Covid-19 Maintenance Grant’ but also further support schemes. As well as financial support, we further ask that the Government, alongside universities, carry out the following as a matter of urgency:

  • Universities must commit to supporting students’ mental health through online counselling and peer-to-peer initiatives;
  • Government must prevent students becoming homeless by working with student accommodation providers and landlords;
  • Both must loan IT equipment to students struggling to continue their studies.

The young people we have described above made it into higher education against the odds and are some of society’s most vulnerable and unrecognised people. It would be a dereliction of duty for the Government to ignore their situation. We therefore ask again that you work with universities and put in place the measures above to support vulnerable students through these challenging times.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Layla Moran MP
Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson
 
[Co-signed]
 
The Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael MP
Wendy Chamberlain MP
Daisy Cooper MP
The Rt Hon Sir Edward Davey MP
Tim Farron MP
Wera Hobhouse MP
Christine Jardine MP
Sarah Olney MP
Jamie Stone MP
Munira Wilson MP
Virendra Sharma MP (Labour)
Mohammad Yasin MP (Labour)
Jon Cruddas MP (Labour)
Ben Lake MP (Plaid Cymru)
Claire Hanna MP (SDLP)
The Rt Hon Sir George Howarth MP (Labour)
Colum Eastwood MP (SDLP)
Rosie Cooper MP (Labour)
Caroline Lucas MP (Green)
Neale Hanvey MP (SNP)
Allan Dorans MP (SNP)

CC: The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP, Secretary of State for Education

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