University Staff Who Can’t Afford To Eat Ask For Campus Food Banks | TOTUM
Ben Hayward June 26th
2022

Struggling staff are turning to universities for help, asking to set up food banks as the cost of living crisis bites. 

The University and College Union (UCU) is reporting that a whole range of staff from young academics teaching on casual contracts to low-paid support workers such as porters and cleaners are finding themselves unable to eat properly. 

As reported by the Guardian, staff members at Leeds said they couldn’t afford adequate meals and called for a staff food bank on an anonymous message board that had been set up by students protesting over low staff pay.

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One staff member wrote: “Another morning where I wake up hungry because I couldn’t eat enough last night.” They added that they had survived on two or three meals of plain rice a day during the pandemic.

A second said: “This Tuesday I attended my appointment to collect a waste food hamper from a charity. I do this every fortnight so I can make ends meet. No savings in any month.”

One young academic said: “This winter my flat was so cold that I bought myself a pair of gloves to wear while working. Turning the heating on was too expensive.”

UCU members have been boycotting marking and assessment in protest at pension cuts, pay and working conditions, with general secretary, Jo Grady, describing the low wages as ‘inexcusable’.

“Education staff [being forced] into using food banks is an indictment of the entire sector that has held down pay for far too long,” she said. 

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Ruth Holliday, professor of gender and culture at Leeds University, said: “It makes me feel angry and slightly ashamed to hear there are people working in my university who can’t afford food. It’s just desperately unfair. Universities need to pay people enough to live.”

It is typical for PhD students to juggle multiple hourly paid teaching contracts to make ends meet while writing their thesis, but hourly rates for teaching time fail to cover the many hours spent preparing for seminars. “If you work it out based on the work they actually do,” said Professor Holliday. “That hourly rate becomes practically nothing.”

Speaking to the Guardian, one PhD student at Birmingham University - who said she didn’t want to be named in case it damaged her job prospects - said: “Food and electricity bills are a big worry. I have very quick showers and at the weekend I come in and work on campus because I’m scared to use too much electricity.”

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She added: “My students have no idea I don’t get enough money for teaching them. It’s a battle to make my rent. I’d love to be in a position where I’m not just surviving all the time. It’s incredibly stressful.”

A spokesperson for Leeds University said: “We recognise these are difficult times for many of our staff and students, as they are for much of society, and we are taking action.”

He said the university would also be moving more staff on to permanent contracts as well as making an extra payment of £650 to all staff on lower pay grades - which could be repeated later in the year.

He added that the university was also increasing the level of its staff assistance fund for those in financial difficulty.

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