Students forced into poverty to complete study, report finds

October 10, 2022
A poor student looks at their laptop
Many students go without food and other essentials because they can’t afford them. Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Thousands of students are forced into poverty to pursue their degrees, according to a damning report by the National Union of Students (NUS). Research conducted in collaboration with the Foundation for Young Australians reveals significant barriers to accessing Youth Allowance, the welfare payment for students. 

Locked out of Youth Allowance: Student Poverty + Centrelink in Australia found that more than 450,000 students, most between the ages of 18 and 21, are unable to access Youth Allowance.

This is primarily because the age of independence is 22, meaning those under 22 are considered "dependent" on their parents and can only access the payment if they meet certain criteria or their parents earn under a certain threshold.

The NUS is campaigning for the age of independence to be lowered to 18.

Youth Allowance is the only welfare payment that has different rates for those living at home with family and those living away from home. These rates are $367 a fortnight and $530.40 a fortnight respectively. The Henderson Poverty Line is about $1200 a fortnight.

The absurdity of this two-tier system is that many students have the same living costs as other welfare recipients, but are expected to survive on less money.

One-in-seven students go without food and other essentials because they can’t afford them. For First Nations students, this increases to one-in-five.

The median annual income of university students is an appalling $18,300, roughly 40% below the poverty line. The median wage for adults is approximately $41,000.

Youth Allowance recipients overwhelmingly stated that low payment rates negatively impact their mental health and education: 86% said it negatively impacted their financial well-being, while 65% stated that it negatively impacted their mental health.

But discrimination against young adults extends beyond welfare payments. Workers under 21 year's old are paid less than older colleagues despite doing the same work. Some young workers are campaigning to scrap youth rates as a key demand in enterprise bargaining agreements. 

Research into rental affordability has found that there are no affordable rental properties across the country for someone on Youth Allowance. Rent Assistance is insufficient to help in any meaningful way. This has all compounded to make student poverty widespread and disastrous.

Students are tricked into tens of thousands of dollars in HECS debt with the often illusory promise of a high-paying job when they graduate.

Combined with ongoing casualisation in the education sector, poverty is grinding students into dust. The NUS report highlights the need for a rise in Youth Allowance and an education system that is run for people, not profit.

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