Students at University of Manchester on rent strike over cost of living crisis
Organisers say they are seeking 30% monthly cut and that more than 150 people have signed up
The Guardian, Mon 9th Jan 2023
Hundreds of students in halls of residence at the University of Manchester are withholding their rent payments this month over the cost of living crisis.
The students are seeking to pressure their university into offering a 30% cut on monthly rent payments, including a rebate for fees already paid, which they claim have become unaffordable.
The organisers said: “We know that the university can do much more to materially help students deal with this crisis. The money is there to support UoM students without ripping us off.”
The organisers said that more than 150 students have signed up to take part so far, of whom some had already cancelled their direct debits while others would manually withhold their rent payment on the week of 19 January.
They said this amounted to more than £100,000, since average payments for the spring term are about £1,800, although the organisers are anticipating that more than £300,000 could be withheld.
A survey by the Office for National Statistics in November found half of all students in England were facing financial difficulties, with a quarter taking on additional debts and three in 10 skipping lectures and tutorials to cut costs.
Fraser McGuire, a first year history and politics student, said he was moved to help organise the strike after realising he would be left to live off £200 from his maintenance loan for four months after paying rent.
He said students felt “worried, stressed, angry and powerless”. “Lots are in a lot of financial difficulty. Out of a lot of people’s maintenance loan payments, 70, 80, 90% of that goes on rent. Students are working up to full-time hours to help get them through their studies,” he added.
He said the organisers had taken tips from the students who went on strike in 2020, securing a 30% rebate worth £4m from the university to compensate them for their dissatisfaction with their pandemic experience, and they were in talks with students at other universities.
Manchester students are also asking for no further increases in rent over the next three years, and for 40% of halls to meet the National Union of Students’ definition of affordability, which is 50% of the highest student maintenance loan. They believe that this could be funded through Manchester’s record £119.7m surplus.
The affordability of student accommodation is a problem across universities as rents have risen far more rapidly than inflation. Estimates by the NUS and the student housing charity Unipol suggest average costs have risen by 60% over the past decade to reach £7,347, surpassing the average £6,900 student maintenance loan.
A University of Manchester spokesperson said the university had implemented a £9m range of measures to help students with the cost of living crisis, including £2,000 support payments, £170 for every student and cheaper food options.
He added that rents in university halls included bills and were lower than similar private sector accommodation, with increases in 2022-23 between 1.5% and 6%.
He said: “We will do everything we can to support students who are unable to pay their rent and urge anyone struggling to speak to us as soon as possible. We are not currently aware of any students refusing to pay their rent but are aware of recent online comments made by a small number of campaigners.”