From April 1, both allowances and living costs increased by $25 a week. However, some students and student advocates say this support will not alleviate students from the hardship they are experiencing.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced a $25 increase in student support payments in the 2021 Wellbeing Budget last year. The change that has just come into effect is expected to benefit around 63,000 student allowance recipients and 86,000 student living cost borrowers. The increase happened automatically for people getting Student Allowance. But students taking out living costs will need to apply to increase their maximum entitlement.
This comes alongside a range of income supporting measures being introduced in Aotearoa, with the minimum wage also increasing from $20 to $21.20 per hour. Speaking to students on campus last week, there were mixed reactions to these support measures. Some told Craccum that the additional boost to their weekly income would help them out, and others said it was not enough.
Belle, a Science student, says the increases will help cover small daily expenses, especially transport. “I live pretty far away and have to catch the train and the bus to uni, which normally costs at least five or six dollars a day, which adds up a lot. So the $25 will help a lot. And I’m studying part-time, so I don’t even get the AT student discount.”
Erin, an Arts student, says she will be using the extra cash to buy food for uni. “I might be able to get a couple of Subway sandwiches or get some muesli bars to eat on campus. Food prices are really crazy right now, so I’ll take anything I can get.”
However, Engineering student Sam says that the increases aren’t enough to make a significant difference. “I’m working eight to ten hours a week while studying full-time and taking out living costs, and I’m still struggling to pay rent and afford groceries. So $25 isn’t gonna cover it. I’m also not eligible for a student allowance.”
The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) stated in a press release that these changes were announced before we hit crisis point, as inflation has now reached a three-decade high of 5.9%. “A $25 increase to the Student Allowance demonstrates how disconnected the Government is from the hardship that the 400,000 students across Aotearoa are currently experiencing.”
NZUSA, Te Mana Ākonga, Tauira Pasifika, the National Disabled Students’ Association, and 50 other student organisations have been calling for a Universal Education Income to be available to all part-time and full-time domestic students, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in Aotearoa. This proposal was included in the National Student Action Plan on COVID-19.
NZUSA National President Andrew Lessells described the increase as a “token gesture” and “callous when students are dropping out because they can’t afford to live… Ignoring the Universal Education Income proposal while increasing allowances by an amount that doesn’t even match the rent hikes that most students have seen is a slap in the face.”