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UK: int’l students using food banks during lockdown

International students in the UK are facing serious financial hardship – with some using food banks – after finding themselves unable to get work during lockdown, charities have revealed. 

International students are facing financial difficulties after not being able to work. Photo: Pexels

"The Newham Community Project, a mosque-based charity, provides food to more than 1,300 students every week"

A report by the FT found that challenges were particularly prevalent in parts of east London where the Newham Community Project, a mosque-based charity, provides food to more than 1,300 students every week. 

“Students are facing a lot of problems at the moment”

In the first lockdown of 2020 students faced similar challenges after part-time work opportunities became unavailable – a situation that resulted in some facing homelessness. 

While hardship funds are available from universities, students are still relying on part-time work for income to survive, something that stakeholders have warned against doing especially during the pandemic. 

“Students are facing a lot of problems at the moment, as you can expect, because of the lockdown,” Kishore Dattu, mentor for North England and Scotland coordinator at the Indian National Students Association UK, told The PIE News.

“A lot of students depend on part-time jobs and especially on the hospitality industry, which has been severely hit.”

Organisations like INSA and the SEVA Trust are offering help to students, providing them with food, helping with housing issues and supporting them with access to medicine.

Back in June 2020, the Migrants’ Rights Network and Unis Resist Border Controls surveyed tier 4 international students to get a better perspective on how Covid-19 lockdown measures in the UK and abroad were impacting them.

The study found that 70 of the 124 respondents (56%) believed they were destitute or at risk of becoming destitute. Some had been able to access support via mutual aid group’s but others had failed to find an organisation that could support them.

Universities, both in the first and current lockdown, said that they had made sure that hardship funds are available to students who are struggling to cope. 

“Even if there are hardship funds available, not every student is eligible”

Universities UK told The FT that institutions recognise the financial pressures the pandemic has placed on students and that they are “providing increased financial support and ensuring continued wellbeing support as a result”.

Wales this week announced an extra £40m to support vulnerable students in the country.

However, despite the availability of these hardship funds, students are not always receiving support according to Dattu. 

“Even if there are hardship funds available, not every student is eligible and not every student is getting it,” he said.

Ruturaj Phadke is studying advanced mechanical engineering with management and industry at the University of Leicester. He told The PIE that “it’s been a very hard time” for international students. 

“We have to pay higher fees than European students and there are very few chances of securing a job,” he said. 

Phadke said that students are working any available shifts that they can find, and borrowing money from parents to sustain themselves, but he said that the toll on their mental health has been serious. 

“We can’t concentrate on our studies. Everyone’s missing their families and all of our families are worried for us due to this new strain of Covid-19,” he said. 

Phadke explained that his university had emailed him about its hardship fund, but that he did not think he would be eligible. 

Do not rely on part-time income to supplement your living expenses”

Tier 4 visa rules state that students must provide a bank statement or certificate of deposit that shows they have held enough money to cover their course fees and monthly living costs for up to nine months. However, many international students still rely on part-time work. 

Sanam Arora, chairwoman of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK, said that Indian students often aren’t give appropriate information around finances when they are applying to study abroad. 

There continue to be a number of dubious agents operating in the Indian market and they will say whatever they need to do in order to get students to come over,” she said.  

“So what we have been doing at our end is to proactively tell students, do not rely on part-time income to supplement your living expenses’.” 

Arora said that if a student is looking to go abroad, they need to be financially independent. “You cannot rely on third party sources, particularly during the pandemic,” she added.

“We understand that hardship can occur when students can no longer access their part-time job and have not used a job retention scheme, or when their families or sponsors are unable to send funds from their home country due to challenges caused by Covid-19,” Universities UK International told The PIE. 

We would always recommend that students carefully plan their financing, but this is especially important given the current precarious situation. Help in the form of financial and wellbeing support is available at universities and we encourage any student who is struggling to contact their university in the first instance.”

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