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Politicians must take note of student healthcare

Joshua Smoot

Over the last few weeks, politicians have been criss-crossing the country, campaigning for votes in the hope of securing electoral victory. Once again, young people have been singled out as a powerful yet relatively disengaged demographic. With this in mind, it is striking that politicians have not done more to attract younger voters by proposing attractive yet relatively simple policy concessions.

For example, no political party has directly tackled the issue of students paying full price for medical prescriptions. In England, those over 19 must pay £8.60 per item – which can soon add up for those taking more than one medication, or those with repeat prescriptions. Whilst the Department of Health offers pre-payment cards to reduce long-term costs, and exemptions are available for students on low incomes, these measures do not go far enough. Financial pressures from unexpected medical costs can place strain on a budget, impacting one’s ability to make rent payments and having a detrimental effect on one’s diet and mental health. I know students who have had their anxiety exacerbated by mounting medical bills, in some cases leading to them reducing or even stopping their medication to keep costs down. The stress of needing medical attention is thus worsened by financial constraints, frustrating the desire to have medical issues promptly resolved, compounded by poor diet caused by a restricted budget, and exacerbated by a lack of sleep as a result of these worries.

Medical prescription payments trap low-income students in vicious cycle

Whilst students on a low income may access their prescriptions without charge, these are not the students I see suffering most. I have spoken to students who were previously managing, but can’t face asking their parents for more money after their budget spiralled beyond projections due to multiple prescription charges. The shame they feel at their perceived inability to manage financially can lead to an unwillingness to talk to parents or tutors who might be able to provide appropriate support. These are students from working families, just about managing to keep their children at university, and who are already facing significant student debt. If this country values its young people who are seeking a good education, why charge them for poor health or force them to suffer in silence?

In an age of tightened belts and tighter budgets, I’m not asking for the scrappage of all prescription charges in England, nor waiving them entirely for all students (although, to my mind, this would not be unfair). I’m asking for a concession to recognise that ill health is a reality that affects us all, and should not be allowed to disproportionately affect those struggling financially. Why aren’t students offered discounted medication – or a cap on monthly expenditure? If politicians care about younger voters, they should reach out to us and show that under those suits they are concerned about others, and are prepared to be proactive and stand up for those in need.

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