Half of employed students say working affects their mental health

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A survey conducted by Palatinate and the Students’ Union has found that over half of Durham students with job agree that work affects their mental and physical health.

In response to the question, ‘Working affects my health (both mental and physical)’, 55.5% of the 63 students asked responded with ‘Agree’ or ‘Strongly Agree’. Those who worked longer hours agreed with this statement more than those who spent less time at work.

“It’s clear that for some the funding gap they are trying to cover is too large.”

Alongside this, 63.5% of respondents agreed that working affects their university experience.

SU Opportunities Officer Jess Dunning, who co-created the survey, said, “Working while at University can be a really positive experience, but when students are having to work in a way that affects their physical and mental health, it’s clear that for some the funding gap they are trying to cover is too large.”

Inadequate funding is the key component motivating students to work. The majority of student workers are in the highest and lowest maintenance loan gaps, which suggests that the university provides inadequate funding for students of low-income backgrounds.

As these students work more, it is disproportionately students with lower parental incomes and students with lower maintenance loans who see their physical and mental health more adversely affected.

Currently, the University offers a £2,000 a year grant which is awarded automatically to students on the higher maintenance loan. Some colleges also offer additional grants, though receiving these grants can sometimes be a bureaucratic process.

As a result, the poorest students end up working even longer hours. According to the survey, 40% of Durham students in the highest maintenance loan bracket work 13 hours or more a week, compared to 28.5% of employed students in the lowest bracket.

It is therefore the students with the lowest parental incomes whose mental and physical health is most adversely affected.

A student at St Chad’s College on the highest maintenance loan told Palatinate, “Working and studying is a nightmare, start to finish.

“Nobody ever has enough time at university, but working on top of everything else leads to coming in from a shift and crashing every single day. I feel like I never get a break.”

The significance of the highest maintenance-loan bracket in the results also suggests that the system of student loan application is flawed.

Frank Simpson, President of the Working Class Students’ Association, said of student financial support, “The Durham Grant isn’t enough. Any system that assesses eligibility based solely on household income is going to be unequal.

“The Durham Grant isn’t enough.”

“For example, they completely fail to account for whether a household is trying to put more than one child through uni, so if a household with an income of £26,000 a year is putting two kids through three years at Durham they pay twice the costs with none of the support, losing out on £4,000 of support because they’re an inch over the cutoff point.”

One Grey College student on the lowest maintenance loan said, “It’s frustrating and reductive that there is such a focus placed on parental income. Just because your parents earn a certain amount, it doesn’t mean that income stays consistent.

“The government and the university both need to provide better funding systems for students. God knows they have the money to do this!”

Despite the effect on students’ mental health, most students (71.4%) said that they enjoyed their job.

Another factor which increased stress was job applications. Most student jobs had two or three step admission processes, causing added stress to many job-hunting students.

The Students’ Union has plans to address the university’s inadequate funding. Dunning is already lobbying the university to give the Real Living Wage to all students and staff.

Dunning said, “The results of the survey will feed into this work, helping us highlight how students feel about working while studying and the effects it has on their studies.

“I will be submitting a paper to the University Executive Committee asking the University to pay all students and staff the Real Living Wage. Both David (your Postgraduate Academic Officer) and I also currently sit on the Casual Working Group, and are looking into pay issues across the whole of the University.”

“Working and studying is a nightmare, I feel like I never get a break”

Dunning also explained that all Officers are dedicated to increasing funding. She said, “Kate, your SU President, is working with the University to create differentiated accommodation fees; Sam and David, your Academic Officers, are working with the University to determine the hidden costs of academia and their effects; and I am investigating how we can make extracurricular activities in Durham more accessible.”

Image: Chapter of Durham Cathedral

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