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National Union of Students announces plans for ambitious new student poverty commission

Wednesday 30 August 2017

The National Union of Students has today released plans for an ambitious new poverty commission. The wide ranging commission will look at the barriers faced by working class people before, during and after further and higher education. The issue is close to the heart of new NUS president Shakira Martin, a black woman from a working class background and a single mother who has never attended university.

Video: new NUS president Shakira Martin talks to student journalists about why student poverty is a personal issue for her

Today’s announcement follows growing outrage over the state of post compulsory education in the UK. Figures released yesterday by student discount card NUS extra showed that 46% of students  in higher and further education worry about being able to afford essentials such as bread and milk from week to week. The same study found that a quarter of students were not looking forward to returning to college or university because of financial worries. Unaffordable living costs affect working class students most severely, and those from lower income backgrounds are more likely to drop out before completing their studies.

In a speech yesterday, NUS president Shakira Martin said:

“We know that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are still 35% less likely to attend university. We know that even if they make it to university, under privileged students are much more likely to drop out.

“I’m not just talking about the people who have been lucky enough to make it to university though, I’m talking about students like myself: a single parent of two from a working class background who could never have had what many people would call a “typical” university experience. I’m talking about the people across the UK who leave school at 16, or even sooner, and go into minimum wage jobs because they simply cannot afford to do anything else, or perhaps because they have been made to feel that they are not capable of anything else.

“We are all capable of achieving, but for some the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against us. That is what I want to change. That’s why I am launching my poverty commission: a massive piece of work that will span two years, will reach out to the forgotten corners of our society and will involve agencies, experts and students from all areas of further and higher education.”

The commissioning board, which is to be announced soon, will be gathering evidence over the next six months and will produce a report with a set of recommendations next February. NUS hopes that this will lead to a full government review into access to education for working class communities.

The commission will be the first of its kind, with the focus being on collecting filmed testimonials in addition to data and written evidence. These will be collected from working class communities across the UK at ‘Listen and Learn events’ each of which will be launched by a well known figure who has come from a working class background.

Shakira explained:

“Facts and figures aren’t cutting it any more. We need to give a voice to the people who are experiencing these barriers. That’s what I am going to be doing. I will present my findings in a way that the working class community can engage with personally. Long reports with inaccessible terminology and endless numbers have their place, and we will produce a written report, but it is important that people feel that they are talking with us, rather than being talked about. Our findings need to be articulated in a way that can be understood by everyone. Only then can the conversation really be open. An open conversation about class is desperately needed in the UK right now.”


Photos attached. These are from a speech made by Shakira Martin yesterday to student journalists at NUS and Amnesty International's student media summit. Credit: NUS

The video excerpt of Shakira talking can be downloaded via wetransfer here.

For further comment, or a full transcription of Shakira's speech, please contact NUS Press office 07866 695 010.

Data Sources

Research was carried out by NUS services Insight team for student discount card NUS Extra. The poverty commission will be led by NUS President Shakira Martin.

*1 Student Opinion monthly online survey. Survey had a base of 1952 students, and was carried out between 4th and 17th May 2017.

Spending statistics from NUS services 2015 ‘Success in the Student Market’ report.


The National Union of Students is a voluntary membership organisation which makes a real difference to the lives of students and its member students' unions.
We are a confederation of 600 students' unions, amounting to more than 95 per cent of all higher and further education unions in the UK. Through our member students' unions, we represent the interests of more than seven million students. We promote, defend and extend the rights of students and develop and champion strong students’ unions.