Life as a Working Class Student

I have been working class my entire life. In fact, some would categorise my immediate family as living on the poverty line, struggling to make ends meet and relying heavily on government aid just to put a roof over our heads. I’m sure, in fact I know, that there are many other students just like or even worse off than myself, and that these people have battled with constant financial difficulties for as long as they can remember. Many, myself included, have never been abroad on family holidays; many have had to hide their embarrassment from their parents as they leave for school in their half mast trousers and hole-ridden shoes; many have struggled with their education due to poor mental health or a lack of resources. However, despite all this, we drag ourselves through an education system that fails us and by some miracle manage to get into university because we are determined to achieve our dreams and better ourselves. Growing up poor is one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced, and escaping poverty isn’t any easier.

As a person from a low-income family attending university, I got the maximum amount of student loan (and luckily maintenance grant) you could get. I was able to afford my rent and pay for whatever necessities I needed. I can remember hearing people from wealthier families complain about how the burden of funding their education or paying their rent should not fall to their parents, and I completely agree with them. A major part of going to university is establishing yourself as an independent adult, so I believe that everyone should receive enough funding to not be financially reliant on their family. However, I have also seen and heard disgruntled remarks directed at working class students for spending some of their leftover funding on a summer abroad or going to festivals. This has always bothered me, because the offending individuals are forgetting one vital thing. A lot of the students that receive the maximum amount of funding during their time at university have never been in a position to afford such luxuries. These are the same people whose parents could not afford to buy them new clothes or treat them to a meal out for their birthday. These are the same people that never got the new iPhone, or a new car, or even a trip to Disney Land. These are the same people that without an adequate amount of funding could not attend university.

Throughout the course of my undergraduate studies, my single mother has struggled with money. In the final year of my degree, she was made unemployed and left to provide for three children (not including myself) with practically no income. On many occasions, she was forced to turn to me for help. Me. Her 23-year-old daughter who herself was struggling to save enough to fund a Master’s degree. I hate to make assumptions, but I think it is safe to say that practically none of the people that complain about their lack of government funding have ever had to support their mother. If I were to find myself in any kind of financial predicament, I cannot look to my family for help. I can’t just ask my mum for a quick £200 and her be able to (even if it’s begrudgingly) just hand it over. To be honest, asking to borrow a tenner feels like asking for the world to me.

Now, in no way am I saying that wealthier students have it easy, because I absolutely know that being a student can really suck for anyone. What I am saying is that the anger and vitriol I sometimes see being hurled at working class students for just wanting to enjoy themselves a little should be directed at the people providing the funding. Your friend that lived in a council house her entire life and didn’t have a properly functioning phone until she left high school is not the enemy. The system that commodifies higher education is.

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