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Poorest hurt most – again

Scrapping uni grants turn young to debt
Hajera Blagg, Thursday, August 20th, 2015


After the announcement that maintenance grants will be scrapped by the government next year, students will be dealt a double blow as the cost of student accommodation soars.

 

Between 2010 and 2013, rents in the wider rental market skyrocketed by 13 per cent, but student accommodation went up at almost double the rate by 25 per cent.

 

Maintenance loans, which can total up to £8,000 a year for students in London and £5,500 for students outside the capital, are available to help with overall living costs, but the National Union of Students (NUS) contends that these loans are being entirely wiped out by rent.

 

The union notes that now, there’s an £8,000 a year shortfall between living costs and income students receive from grants and loans.

 

A recent Shelter survey reveals just how badly students are suffering to meet their housing costs – 50 per cent of students reported struggling with rent and 40 per cent said they borrowed money from a range of sources to pay the rent.

 

Soaring rents

Soaring rents can be in part attributed to the private student accommodation market, which began as a niche market in the early 2000s and has since exploded in the past few years.

 

By 2013, private student accommodation accounted for 80 per cent of all new bed spaces. Every year more and more money is being poured into the market, with £5bn being invested in the sector in the first half of 2015 alone.

 

A University of London survey shows just how much more expensive privately let student accommodation can be. Those living in private halls paid an average of £233 a week, while students living in university halls or houses paid an average of £150 per week.

 

The NUS argues that universities aren’t doing their part to stem the upward pressure on rents caused by the private market. Many have, in fact, sold off their old housing stock to private developers, leaving very few options for lower income students.

 

But just as communities are fighting back to stop the rising tide of private developers squeezing out affordable housing in the general population, students are also getting organised.

 

Inspired by successful housing campaigns such as New Era, students have banded together to battle against skyrocketing student rents – protests have blossomed up and down the country demanding student rent controls.

 

Unite national youth co-ordinator Anthony Curley argued that the growth of the private student accommodation market is one more way in which young people, especially from lower income households, are being attacked by unrestrained privatisation and the Tory government supporting it.

 

“A university education was once a right that anyone – no matter their ability to pay – was entitled to,” he said. “Now, it’s nothing short of a money-making scheme that’s turning young people into debt slaves before they even start out in life as adults.

 

“Scrapping maintenance grants that benefit those from low-income families, just as student living costs are soaring, shows just how intent the present government is in their quest to further widen the equality gap between the rich and the rest of us.”

 

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