Back to press releases

Poverty Commission Press Release

By NUS Press Team

Thursday 26 April 2018

The National Union of Students (NUS) have today released a ground breaking report on working-class students and the real life affects and barriers that face them throughout post-16 education. The report makes a series of recommendations to the government and calls for a living income for all students.

 Working with fantastic ambassadors and commissioners who in turn listened to the experiences of small focus groups the commission took a holistic approach to research. The report also draws on submissions of evidence from further and higher education students, apprentices, students’ unions experts and agencies. The report provides a unique look at the class related social barriers and financial issues that are some of the biggest barriers to social mobility in post-16 education.


Key findings include:


  • Students from working-class backgrounds face a ‘poverty premium’ often paying higher costs in order to access post-16 education. Ironically these are the most debt adverse students to begin with.
  • Working-class students are most likely to be employed in a job that requires more than the recommended 15 hours per week while studying.
  • Apprentice pay is inadequate – a significant proportion are paid less than the legal minimum wage. Cost of childcare exceeds their wages and many are not entitled to access additional support.
  • Rising costs of transport and cuts to bus services make it more difficult for working-class students.
  • Average student expenditure routinely exceeds the income available through student support. Leaving many students without the means to pay for food or heating. Student halls routinely exceed what is affordable given the maintenance loan available to students. The pricing policy risks segregating working-class students.   
  • Students are currently missing out because the means-testing system for student loans have been frozen since 2008.
  • Dropout rates are highest among working class students. With a third of part time students leaving before their second year of study and 10.3% of black students. 
  • The dominant culture of HE is middle class and working-class students can be made to feel they do not belong (feeling disconnected or bullied).

The report reveals large inequalities around the experiences of working-class students in further education, higher education and apprenticeships. While many are financial, simply solving the financial crisis many find themselves in will not solve the problem. Though this is an area that needs to be seriously considered throughout the government’s funding review the culture around who further and higher education ‘is for’ must change to remove barriers to education.

In particular the report outlines a number of recommendations for government and higher education institutions to address the issues raised through the commission.


Recommendations include:


  • The introduction of a minimum living income for students across FE and HE and apprenticeships.


  • The government must reinstate entitlement to grant funding across FE and HE including maintenance grants for undergraduate students, EMA for young FE students and NHS bursaries at significantly improved rates.


  • Review of the operation of means-testing to ensure a fair funding system.


  • Learning providers should offer practical solutions such as deposit schemes or weekly payments to help lessen the burden of course costs or apprenticeship programmes.


  • Providing affordable accommodation should be considered as a matter of educational access, and that measures to ensure access to affordable accommodation for low-income students should form part of Access and Retention Agreements. 


  • Universities and colleges should open their doors to part time learners in other ways than through formal courses.


Shakira Martin, NUS President said:


“Being born working class is one of the biggest barriers to education. The government claims to be improving social mobility and tackling poverty but so often forgets to recognise how interrelated poverty and class are. The importance of the commission was to look beyond the statistics currently available and look at why working class students struggle to get in and get on in tertiary education.


The shocking poverty premium is only going to get worse while the system ignores the fact it penalises poorer students for being poor. If sources of student income fail to keep pace with inflation, working class students will continue to be hit the hardest.


“There is now absolutely no excuse for government and institutions not to act as the evidence shows that this problem is systemic and of the most serious nature. It is particularly concerning that large numbers of those who submitted evidence said they couldn’t afford heating and food. The government must use the funding review to implement the recommendations, so that no student whether an undergraduate or apprentice struggles to make ends meet while getting an education.”




Shakira Martin is available for interview. Please contact NUS Press office 07866 695 010