Student poverty: One-third were at risk before energy crisis

Recently released official statistics suggest that well over one-third of German students were already at risk of poverty last year, prompting the German National Association for Student Affairs or Deutsches Studentenwerk (DSW) to call on government for more financial support for students struggling with cost-of-living increases.

According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany (Destasis), 37.9% of students in Germany were poverty-vulnerable in 2021.

The Destasis figures are part of the EU-SILC (European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions) data compiled last year. EU-SILC defines an individual threatened by poverty as having less than 60% of the overall population’s average income at his or her disposal, with the threshold for people living on their own lying at a net €1,251 (US$1,300) a month in Germany.

Students living alone or with other students

Among students living on their own or exclusively together with other students, the share of poverty-vulnerable students was at 71.1%, considerably higher than the overall share of poverty-vulnerable students in the total student population. Last year, the total share of the German population threatened by poverty was at 15.8%.

Destasis also states that 38.5% of students were last year already living in households unable to pay unexpected major expenses out of their own financial resources – ahead of the current energy crisis. This applied to 55.8% of the students living on their own or sharing flats with other students. The figure for the overall population was 31.9%.

Destasis points out that housing costs, accounting for 31.6% of overall expenditure on average, left many students with little financial scope for other areas in 2021. Again, this share was significantly higher than average housing costs for the population at large, which was at 23.3%.

And on average, students on their own or sharing flats with other students had to spend 51.1% of their income on housing.

A ‘dramatic’ crisis

“Students are facing a dramatic social crisis this winter,” says DSW General Secretary Matthias Anbuhl. “Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic already on their last legs financially and mentally, they now face a situation in which they often do not know how they will afford food, gas and electricity, given the skyrocketing prices.”

According to Anbuhl, international students are especially hard hit by the crisis, with an average €140 less at their disposal than their fellow German students.

Anbuhl has called for more government support for students to cope with the crisis, including direct payments to cover heating costs.

But he also reiterated the DSW’s demand that BAföG (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz government funding) grants and loans based on the federal grant law be raised and automatically adjusted to price levels as inflation bites. BAföG levels were at €579 on average last winter semester and were paid out to 468,000 students.

Furthermore, the DSW demands that state governments provide more funding for the student services it runs, so that rising energy and food costs at halls of residence and student restaurants need not be passed on to students.