Across the United Kingdom today A-Level results are dictating the future of hundreds of thousands of future students. Some will be confirming places at institutions with solid results, while others desperately scroll through the clearing pages looking for anyone who might take them on. Regardless of where you’re heading though, the cost of living will almost definitely be a problem.
According to the National Union of Students (NUS) since 2012, the cost of student accommodation has gone up an average of 18.4%. These hikes in the cost of living come at the same time as bursaries are being scrapped: the Disabled Students Allowance, bursaries for student nurses and maintenance grants have all in the past years been cut.
At a press conference in central London today, NUS Vice President Welfare Shelly Asquith announced radical proposals that will see her organisation supporting a wave of rent strikes up and down the country. Rent striking is the withholding of rent to landlords, in this case the university, until demands are met, mostly focussed on rent prices and conditions.
“The decision to rent strike is never taken lightly; reflecting the severity of the situation students now find themselves in”, she explained. “The fact so many are now involved in political action at personal risk, demonstrates a collective hope of bringing about change for the benefit of all students.”
“We demand an end to the exploitative profits from university accommodation. We fully support the actions of rent strikers, and urge universities to urgently engage in negotiations to ensure future rates are set at a level which students can afford to pay.”
This September, activists from UCL Cut the Rent (UCL-CTR), and the Radical Housing Network (RHN) will host a “Rentstrike weekend training event” – a gathering comprised of a series of workshops centred around the advancement of university rent strikes.
Clearly ramping up the pressure on universities, NUS has pledged to provide logistical and financial support to this training event, in addition to legal support, setting up holding bank accounts, facilitating negotiations with universities, and other support that students might need.
Rent strikes have proven successful in London already: this year, over 1000 UCL students withheld payments in a rent strike lasting five months. Despite repeated threats from the university, this June the strikers declared victory – winning rent freezes and concessions worth over £1,000,000.
It’s a bold plan, rent strikes haven’t been seen across the country for decades, but Ben Beach, a member of the Radical Housing Network, told Huck that rent strikes are now vital. “When so many now find themselves trapped in poverty due to the rising costs of housing, it is becoming increasingly clear that rent strikes will form a vital part of resistance to the housing crisis.”
Asked whether NUS had concerns that students might get evicted and made homeless because of not paying their rent, Asquith responded by saying that “strength comes in numbers”, and that universities taking such draconian action should be shamed.
“We’ve been arguing universities have been making students homeless for a while now: lifting caps on student numbers without building enough beds in halls,” she said. “The rising cost of student accommodation also risks making students homeless.”
If these plans take off, hundreds of thousands of students across the country might soon find themselves part of mass-rent strikes, with consequences extending far beyond the boundaries of campuses nationwide. Across Britain unaffordable rents and dodgy landlords are squeezing us dry, pushing people onto the streets, and see us living in dire conditions with no other choice.
Halls may are owned by universities, and NUS will be supporting strikers, which means the chances of success might well be high. For those of us watching on, not students but tenants to godawful private landlords, there are a whole bunch of lessons we could be learning. A nationwide rent strike? I’d be down.