YUSU campaign for £1 million in support of cost-of-living crisis


Daisy Couture (she/her) interviews the YUSU President and Wellbeing Officer about their latest initiative

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Image by YUSU

By Daisy Couture

YUSU President Pierrick Rogers and Wellbeing Officer Hannah Nimmo have campaigned for £1 million from the University of York to support students during the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

YUSU has set up various initiatives since summer 2023 in support of the cost-of-living crisis, including cheap campus meals and the Fruit and Root scheme. The money has come from the University as a result of four months of campaigning and lobbying.

YUSU have provided a full breakdown of the areas in which they have delegated the money. Firstly, YUSU have campaigned for £687,862 for Off-Campus Rent Grants, £137,117 for the Emergency Accommodation Fund, £100,000 for the Student Support Fund, £51,296 for Digital Hardship Support, £45,649 for food vouchers and £30,000 for the Fruit and Root initiative. Nouse spoke with Pierrick and Hannah to find out more about the campaign.

Nouse asked: For people who aren’t sure, could you expand on the Fruit and Root initiative? What does it involve?

Hannah replied “It’s a free food initiative. Students were coming to us, saying that they were struggling to afford basic necessities, and this included weekly food shopping. We put together bags of essential items, such as fruit, vegetables, juice and pasta, that students might be struggling to afford due to the increase in prices. We gave 600 bags out last year, and that came directly out of YUSU’s funds. Part of the £1 million total is because the University saw how successful it was, so they’ve put some more funding behind it now. We can give out 6000 bags this year with their funding.”
Pierrick stated “It’s definitely expanding, and we’re also expanding into a Food Pantry initiative too. This is an essentials pantry, with items such as cleaning and hygiene products that people may not be able to afford right now. We’ll be asking for a £1 donation, but people will be able to take whatever they want off the shelf.”

Nouse then asked the question: Can you offer some insight on future initiatives?

Pierrick replied “The main one is the Off-Campus Rent Grant. We’re giving out £700,000, which meant there was some clarification needed from the University. There was a question around whether people on current bursaries were eligible, which the University accepted – if you’re on a current bursary, you can get £100 off of it. That’s the main source of support that we have available, and it’s complemented by the Student Support Fund. This is for people who aren’t eligible for the Off-Campus Rent Grant.”
Hannah responded by commenting “For me, the biggest one is probably the Emergency Accommodation Fund. It’s designed for people who need to escape their current household situation, for reasons such as sexual violence or domestic abuse. The fund is there at the moment so that students can be put up in temporary, University-funded accommodation until they can find more permanent living arrangements. Oftentimes, people are just put into hotels, but because of the amount of money that’s in the fund, I want to work out more of a permanent arrangement – that might involve setting up purpose-built temporary accommodation, for example.
"A lot of our cost of living initiatives are driven by student feedback, so we’re more than willing to go the extra mile – whatever students tell us they’re struggling with, that’s what we react to. When we start getting more information through, we start building our next set of initiatives.”

Nouse proceeded to ask: What was the biggest challenge you faced during this campaign?

Hannah replied by stating “It was a really challenging year in general, and I think that this year is probably going to be an even bigger challenge. Obviously, £1 million is a lot of money, but we’re getting it from an institution that’s also cutting back a lot of its funding.The University is in a bit of a financial deficit at the moment, which means that they’re cutting funding from everywhere. YUSU funding hasn’t been cut directly, but other areas that we’ve been getting money from have been affected.”
“Another challenge is having to go through a process of ‘proving’ what students need to the University. With the Off-Campus Rent Grant, for example, we had to go away and do some research to prove how much rent was going up around the city. It wasn’t an easy process – it involved a lot of back-and-forth and criteria-setting. We’d like to be able to offer support to everyone who needs it, but sometimes funds don’t allow for things to be very open.”
Pierrick went on to say “I found it difficult to tell people last year that we weren’t able to support certain things. Right now, everybody needs money, and there’s not enough. We’ve got £1 million, but we’ve had to tell people that an initiative they might need isn’t able to be funded because we need to prioritise something else. That’s horrible, because it means that we can’t support whatever we’re meant to be supporting because so many other things need to happen. For me, it was mentally taxing – I’ve had students get in touch and tell me that they’re not eligible for certain initiatives but still need support, and I’ve had to tell them there’s not enough money to go around.”
Hannnah followed Pierrick’s comments in agreement. “Yeah, that’s really hard. I get it quite a lot from a wellbeing perspective – students have come in and told me that their wellbeing is being impacted because of the significance of these issues, but because of things like criteria or financial restrictions, they can’t get access to the support they need. We do as much as we can, but it doesn’t always go as far as it needs to.”

Students can visit the University of York’s dedicated ‘Cost of Living hub,’or ‘YUSU’s Cost of Living Resources’ page where a full list of the available support for students can be found.