Living in London isn’t cheap, and students in the UK are facing a cost of living crisis. When a student journalist stumbled on documents that allegedly revealed her university, University College London, was set to make an increased surplus from the rent paid by cash-strapped students in university managed accommodation, it’s not hard to see why she thought it was worth sharing. The journalist says she was threatened with dismissal.
Last night, students gathered in central London to call for a cut in rents, after rent strikes began across the city. According to activists, over 500 students have now pledged to join the indefinite rent strike declared last month by 150 students at University College London (UCL), withholding payment from the university, their landlords, until their concerns are addressed. Flares were lit, effigies burnt, and there was a whole load of shouting and chanting, as students made their way through the city streets demandeding managers started listening and acting.
Organised by UCL, Cut the Rent and with support from the Radical Housing Network, campaigners say the new additions to the rent strike increases the amount of money being withheld to over £1,000,000, “a figure set to rise as students continue to sign up to the strike,” they say. Vocal protests, and an attack on their balance sheets, may well force the university into responding.
“When UCL runs its accommodation with a 45% profit margin – over £15,779,000 – yet shows flagrant disregard for socially accessible education while seeking to criminalise access to a home for its own students, [we] assert this can only accurately described as a social cleansing of the University,” activists said in a statement. Plans to scrap student maintenance grants, money relied on by those in higher education from families on the lowest income, are already set to be scrapped by the government, and high living costs are set to worsen the burden.
Alfie Duffen, a student participating in the rent strike told HUCK that “the cost of accommodation should not affect a student’s ability to come to UCL. We will continue striking until UCL has made this a reality, not a pretence.” Until the university agrees to cut rents, Alfie and others will continue to withhold their payments, and they believe more people are set to join them.
“Last year when students took strike action over poor conditions in halls, the university threatened to kick them off their courses,” shouted Shelly Asquith, National Union of Students Vice President at the protest. “They fought back and won £100,000 compensation.”
“Now the campaign has stepped up to demand a cut in rent; the university is victimising students, refusing to co-operate. But you are fighting back harder than ever. Look at the hundreds here tonight – at such short notice! Keep up the fight, solidarity and victory to the rent strike!”
Photography by Fin Barr – see more of his work here.