adult work
Image: Allie Smith / Unsplash

Number of students using adult work to cover living costs doubles in two years

One in 25 students in the UK use adult work to cover living costs at university, a recent study has found.

This is twice the number found in 2017, having risen from 2% to 4% in two years. Applied to HESA data, it is estimated that approximately 70,000 undergraduates may be involved in adult work.

The most common methods to cover the average maintenance loan shortage of £267 a month were selling intimate photos (18%), selling used clothing (16%) and “sugar dating” (14%).

The least common were escorting (6%), nude modelling (5%) and pornography (2%).

Save the Student’s survey of 3,385 undergraduates revealed that other sources of income in this category included phone sex, webcamming and “sleeping with someone”.

A Fashion Buying student in Manchester suggested that this trend is due to a shortfall in funding combined with exam stress.

“My student loan came in and I still couldn’t cover my rent, credit card and overdraft,” she said. “I desperately needed the money, and was just about to start my exams so didn’t have time for a ‘proper’ job.”

The survey found that on top of the 4% already involved, a further 6% of students would consider turning to adult work if they needed money in an emergency.

Jake Butler, money expert for Save the Student, commented: “The doubling of students involved in adult and sex work over two years is alarming and very concerning. But it’s not all that unexpected, given the financial situation students are put in.

“Living costs continue to grossly outweigh the amount of funding available, leaving on average a shortfall of £267 a month according to our latest research.”

This comes as it is revealed that 79% of students are worried about making ends meet financially.

Adult work can feel isolating because of the stigma attached to it, meaning that if the student has a negative or dangerous experience they might feel unable to talk about it

– Hannah Morish

Students spend an average £807 a month on living costs while the average maintenance loan is £540 a month, according to Save the Student.

Although parents contribute an average of £134.25 per month, one in three students feel that their parents do not provide them with enough money to live on.

The rise in students turning to adult work may also be because of a struggle to balance studies with a part-time job, the survey has shown. While 67% work alongside their studies, half of them struggle to balance shifts with their degree.

62% of students who ask their university for funding or financial support say that it is not easy to find help.

Hannah Morish, a psychotherapist and higher education lead at The Student Room (TSR), is concerned about how adult work may affect students’ mental health.

She said: “Adult work can feel isolating because of the stigma attached to it, meaning that if the student has a negative or dangerous experience they might feel unable to talk about it, leading to a deeper sense of loneliness.

“Over time, recurring experiences like this can lead to emotional and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.”

She explained: “Universities and student unions need to review whether they have advice and safe spaces on campus or online to support students who are considering or actively involved in this kind of work.”

Last year, the University of Brighton received nationwide media attention after a sex workers’ support group attended their freshers’ fair, with the stall being branded “beyond disgraceful”.


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