Monday 14-10-2019 - 09:25
On 16 October, the student Rent Strike/Cut the Rent network has called a Day of Action against unaffordable rents, dodgy landlordism and unacceptable conditions in student accommodation. Myself and NUS fully support students in taking action up and down the country and calls on the government, universities and the private sector to listen and take serious action.
Ever since the inspiring 2016 rent strikes at UCL and Goldsmiths the movement has gone from strength to strength. Liverpool Guild’s Cut the Rent campaign last year won the biggest yet securing almost £4 million in rent reductions for students alongside a range of other concessions. Bristol’s recent Rent Strike won a five-fold increase in the number of affordable bed spaces available to students and increases to the accommodation bursary. When we fight, we win.
I had the privilege of attending and delivering a session at the recent Rent Strike Weekender which had hundreds of attendees from all over the country including sabbatical officers, student groups and representatives from tenants’ organisations like ACORN. Our movement only continues to grow, and we have seen new, vibrant campaigns kick-off in places like Sheffield, York and Durham in recent times showing that the student-housing crisis truly is a national problem!
At NUS, we successfully lobbied for the recent Augar Review to include recommendations around the cost of Purpose-Built Student Accommodation, secured additions to Sadiq Khan’s new ‘London Plan’ forcing private accommodation providers to have both a formal relationship with an educational provider and to have 35% of their bedrooms at an affordable price.
We are also seeking involvement in the Department for Education’s proposed new advisory group looking at the issue of student accommodation, have been lobbying at the Party Conferences and are responding to a range of government consultations including on the proposed merger between Unite and Liberty Living which would create a near monopoly provider in several student towns.
In addition, old and new challenges are becoming more apparent and we need to develop and fight for holistic solutions. As new cohorts of students arrived for university this year in places like Swansea, Portsmouth and Bristol many were greeted by unfinished buildings and over-subscribed halls and are now spending their first weeks in alternative accommodation and poor-quality hotels – an issue that is increasingly common. This will be one of the many issues I discuss when I meet with the Universities Minister Chris Skidmore MP on the 28th October at his roundtable to discuss student accommodation.
Our Accommodation Cost Survey 2018 found both the university-owned and private sector student accommodation sector is severely failing to meet the needs of disabled students – with 14% of universities and 62% of private providers offering no accommodation that is adapted for an ambulatory disability.
Over the coming year we at NUS are going to be creating and launching a swathe of new resources, lobbying through all our national networks alongside allies on this issue and working to provide practical, on the ground support to your campaigns at the grassroots as much as possible.
Whilst the student housing crisis is substantial, there is hope! Our Accommodation Costs Survey also found that providers’ greatest concern for the future was now affordability. This shows that through collective action we have forced the student housing crisis on to the decision-makers’ agenda, now we just need to make them act!
See you on the Rent Strike picket line!