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NUS research shows cold homes threaten students' wellbeing

Wednesday 24-01-2018 - 17:28

The report, Homes Fit for Study, is compiled from research into student experiences of energy in the private rented sector, funded by the Eaga Charitable Trust.

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There is a common, long-standing idea that students are ‘supposed to’ live in dilapidated, dirty, draughty, mouldy homes. In winter, the sterotype goes, they can’t afford enough central heating to be comfortable in anything less than five jumpers, a thermal hat, walking socks, and a hot water bottle tied in place with a dressing gown. They are supposed to eat nothing but beans on toast. Students are meant to rough it, right?

But just because students are largely young, there shouldn’t be a cultural expectation that they have a low standard of living. This is particularly true when class background means that some students – for example, those with little or no financial support from parents or guardians – have less money than others. Living standards impact mental and physical health, with a knock-on effect for studies. Every student deserves a standard of living that supports health, wellbeing and learning.

Last year, NUS found that almost half of UK students are worried about having enough money for essential food, travel and textbooks.

Now, we have just released research – Homes Fit for Study – about students’ experiences of the private rented sector, with a focus on energy use and cold homes. We identified a gap in the research about fuel poverty: there was little mention of the student experience. This research builds on our initial, broader research in 2013 about the quality of student housing. The aim of this research was to understand in greater depth and detail how experiences of cold homes translated to the student context – and in doing so, to influence change. Our representative sample was composed of 2509 survey responses from students in the private rented sector and 41 focus group participants.

The latest research looks at the following themes:

  • Finding and viewing accommodation
  • Living in and managing accommodation
  • Bills and payments
  • Accommodation conditions, heating systems and other facilities
  • Energy use, heating and staying warm
  • Student experiences in cold homes

Among the key findings was that 49% of students had felt uncomfortably cold in their accommodation, with almost as many turning the heating off despite this. Even if central heating was being used, 49% of respondents said their homes were poorly insulated or draughty – meaning energy and money was being wasted. Mould was a common problem.

Living in cold homes, the research found, affected students' mental health and wellbeing. Students in the focus group reported feeling low. One student said, "Sometimes in bed when it's bitterly cold we all feel like crying." Another said: "It makes me feel sad and lonely at times because I have to always be in my bedroom under a duvet." Others said that coping with a cold home had knock-on impacts for their relationships with housemates, particularly relating to differing financial capabilities. Physical health was impacted, too, including increased frequency of colds and the flu. "I had pneumonia in December", said one student, "I'm fairly sure that was because of the cold." Some found it difficult to study at home due to being so uncomfortable. 

Read the full report

These resources will support you in taking action on cold student homes:

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