Survey of basic needs reveals students 'cost of living' worries

A survey of students’ basic needs has found that almost all are worried about the cost of living and the majority have reported going hungry.

Three women seated at a table

Professor Annabel Kiernan, Rt Hon Justine Greening and MP Jo Gideon at the fringe event.

Basic needs insecurities are not mere statistics; they are barriers to education, social mobility and overall well-being.

Professor Annabel Kiernan, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic)

The Student Basic Needs Survey has been piloted with 100 students at Staffordshire University and measures financial, food and housing insecurities in a UK student population.

The work has been carried out with the Purpose Coalition and findings were shared at a fringe event held at the Conservative Party Conference this weekend. The event was chaired by former Education Secretary and Purpose Coalition Chair Rt Hon Justine Greening and Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Jo Gideon was on the panel.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Annabel Kiernan said: “We piloted the Student Basic Needs Survey to empower sector providers to better understand and address the stark reality students face. The report underscores the urgent need for comprehensive, targeted support to ensure students can focus on their studies without the burden of basic necessities.”

Survey findings include:

Financial insecurity

  • Almost all students (93%) are worried about the cost of living
  • One in three students are ‘only just coping’ financially
  • Student Finance maintenance loans are insufficient to meet students’ expenses
  • Students are spending more time on campus where electricity and heating is free

Food insecurity

  • Nearly two thirds of all students have gone without food when they were hungry
  • Students have become astute in accessing free or low cost food options
  • There is an ‘unspoken’ but evident reality that students shoplift for food
  • One in ten students didn’t eat for an entire day at least once every month because they couldn’t afford it

Housing insecurity (including homelessness)

  • Students experience poor quality housing due to insufficient income
  • A quarter of students reported moving home between three and five times within a single year
  • 6.5 percent of students reported being homeless in the last 12 months

Social support and worries

  • There is a reliance on social support to bridge financial gaps
  • Nearly two thirds of students are having to ask family or friends for help to cover food costs and pay bills
  • Seven in ten students had reduced their social activities due to financial constraints

Rt Hon Justine Greening said: "The higher education sector has been driving social mobility for many years but there are still too many barriers in place for students. These findings highlight the impact that the cost-of-living is having, especially on those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Wider issues within the economy have also impacted sectors like hospitality which students have often relied on financially - making it a real challenge for some students.

"Staffordshire University is taking a leading role in supporting their students and ensuring they are able to succeed during their time in higher education."

Professor Kiernan added: “Our report shows how these insecurities directly impede academic success and social mobility. Basic needs insecurities are not mere statistics; they are barriers to education, social mobility and overall well-being. Financial instability obstructs academic progress, food scarcity affects concentration and health, and housing insecurity hampers emotional wellbeing and educational engagement.”

Staffordshire University and The Purpose Coalition are now calling on other universities to adopt the survey so that there is a comprensive picture of the basic need issues affecting students. Anyone wishing to find out more can email

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