The movement for affordable housing is growing fast, and students are at the front line. As rents rise far beyond what a maintenance loan can cover, activism has shifted toward the immediate cost of living and impact of austerity.
Housing is a human right – but living in a cold, unsafe and unaffordable home is not a rite of passage for students. The condition of housing, and they way we are treated by the sector, is also key to our demands.
Too many of us are forced to live in overcrowded, badly kept spaces, for outrageous sums of money.
The choice is increasingly between squalid housing on the one hand, and ever more expensive luxury housing on the other. In London, the cost of university housing has doubled in the last decade (it now stands at £226 for the average weekly student rent), often as a consequence of the privatisation of student accommodation – universities selling off sites to private providers.
And this is not simply the case in the capital. All over the country, a key aspect of the marketisation of higher education has been the rapid growth of extremely expensive halls. In actual fact, and perhaps counter-intuitively, the sharpest rise in the cost of student housing is taking place in Scotland. Across the UK, on average, the price of student accommodation has reached a striking 95% of the maximum student loan.
Our research at NUS has found that there is an average £8,000 shortfall between living costs and income from loans. A reality which is pushing ever more students into needing to work part time or taking on extra debt – often both.
Disabled students are often hit particularly hard. Indeed, most private rented properties are not adapted for people with physical disabilities, in particular wheelchair users. These students therefore face increased costs and a higher dependence on the few accessible providers. Furthermore, there is typically a real lack of input from people who understand disabilities in the development of new student accommodations, leading to inaccessible designs even in supposedly accessible housing.
The situation is at crisis point.
It was the banks, racing to extract profits by praying on ordinary people’s need for housing which laid the foundation for crisis.
The following processes of banks being bailed out, rather than the people who found themselves homeless and dispossessed, shined a light on the nature of our system and the priorities of our governments.
Since then the fight against evictions and for decent housing for all has brought thousands of people to organise in their communities.
Affordable and adequate housing is one of the 8 demands that make up this year’s priority campaign at NUS under the banner of: Liberate Education. We have passed policy to support rent strikes, which have already delivered significant wins for students in the form of investment, bursaries and compensation.
The actions have spread to new institutions and I was proud to support the organising of a housing meet-up in Stirling and in London where students and officers engaged in organising were able to meet, share ideas and best practices, and plan for the months ahead.
Next term, I believe we will see more students taking direct action over rents, and NUS will throw our support behind them. We will join trade unions and community campaigns to March for Homes. We will continue lobbying over the Housing White paper. Because to win housing that is safe, affordable and available to all we must fight on all fronts – and I’m proud that it’s the student movement leading that fight.