Covid-19 causing ‘ticking time bomb of student deprivation’

The National Union of Students is calling for greater support for students who have lost part-time jobs.

The National Union of Students has said there is a “ticking time bomb” of student deprivation as part-time work dries up due to coronavirus.

NUS Scotland president Liam McCabe called on the UK and Scottish governments to provide support to students who are unable to work because of the outbreak and are about to lose student funding over the summer.

The Students Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) stops payments over the summer, when students are not attending college or university.

Mr McCabe said the students’ organisation is “deeply and profoundly concerned” about the financial impact of the lockdown.

Most students will have lost the part-time work they use to supplement incomes as they study, he said, as the majority of the work comes in the retail or hospitality sectors, which have closed down during the outbreak.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr McCabe added: “There is no guarantee that work will reappear and it is my contention that we’re sitting on a ticking time bomb of student deprivation.

“As they have lost that part-time work and there’s no guarantee that it will reappear in future, they’re also staring down the barrels of the end of SAAS payments for those in higher education courses.”

Students across the country have also experienced delays in accessing universal credit, according to Mr McCabe, or have found themselves to be ineligible for the benefit.

It comes after Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak asking for universal credit to be extended to students over the summer.

In her letter, she wrote: “For many students seasonal work is crucial and without access to jobs they will need the same assistance that others with no income are entitled to.

“I am particularly concerned for students with no parental support, or who come from very low-income families.”

Mr McCabe warned the UK and Scottish governments should take action, before “many students who are incredibly capable are pushed out of education and quite possibly into poverty”.

He added: “We have to do everything we possibly can to prevent that.”

Mr McCabe also said the £5m hardship fund from the Scottish Government is “being snapped up” by students who are out of work.

He called for more to be done, adding: “We need to see something more solid, something more firm.

“Something that will give students a guarantee their cost of living is able to be met, not just for the next month or two, but into the summer months where that support would be absent in many cases.”

Mr McCabe said a universal basic income scheme should be “investigated more seriously” by the Scottish and UK governments.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she has moved from being interested in the scheme – which would see a payment made to all citizens in the place of some benefits – to believing its “time has come”.

The Scottish Parliament does not currently have the powers over social security and taxation to implement such a scheme.

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