Thousands of students could be forced to give up their studies due to the devastating effects of Universal Credit, it has been claimed.
St Andrews University student Sandra Mitchell, 35, has launched a campaign calling on the UK Government to review how student income is calculated after struggling to make ends meet despite trying to better herself by going to university.
Ms Mitchell, a single parent from Dundee with a 16-year-old son at college, has found herself up to £300 a month worse off under the new benefits system and, with many more people in similar situations across the country, the history and divinity student wants a halt to be called.
She said: “I want to carve out a satisfying career for myself so I can get to a place where I don’t need to rely on the government to help me and inspire my son to strive for more as well.
“Last year when I was working out what my financial situation would be at uni I was working on the assumption I would still be on tax credits and housing benefit.
“On those calculations I would have still received child tax credit for my son and possibly a percentage of housing benefit alongside my Student Awards Agency Scotland funding and bursary from St Andrews which meant I would have managed OK at uni.
“It wouldn’t have been amazing but it certainly would have been much better than the situation under Universal Credit.
“But under UC I have been told I am entitled to no help at all due to how they calculate student income.
“I have health issues which mean I cannot work alongside my studies due to the hours I put in to uni – I did start off the academic year carrying on my job but I had to hand my notice in just recently.
“They class student loans as unearned income and deduct it pound for pound, unlike wages where they deduct 63p in the pound.”
Ms Mitchell said guidelines for calculating student income seem to be primarily set up for English students, adding that Scottish students – who are paid loans monthly – are ending up without income for a month.
She said: “There are many from the whole of the UK on Facebook groups for UC who are reporting they may have to give up their degree as they cannot afford it.
“This is completely unacceptable that people who are striving to better their career prospects for themselves and their families are being pushed back into a cycle of low paid jobs and reliance on benefits to top up their wages.”
The University of St Andrews said it supports Ms Mitchell with her campaign, as does North East Fife MP Stephen Gethins, who said students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, should be supported in their studies not used as targets for Government austerity.
He said: “Students like Sandra deserve better, she has worked so hard to get to university and should be able to study without the fear of her family going hungry or having to give up her course.”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says claimants have access to an array of money management services such as Universal Support, Personal Budgeting Support, and the online Money Manager tool to help them with their finances.
Sandra has set up a petition calling for a change to the system which can be found here.