Through protests against ever-increasing tuition fees, cuts to maintenance grants, and avaricious rent-hikes, the 99 per cent can unite to abandon their factions, overcome political apathy, and reject poisonous propaganda. Louis Penkett urges you to stand up and join a student rent strike.
No matter where you’re aligned on the political spectrum it is fair to assume that the current affairs developments of the past year have felt like the kind of vivid, momentary-epiphany-causing dream that you only get the night after a five-day bender at a festival. The kind where your brain is so addled from continuous inebriation, sleep deprivation, and new social contact that the moment you fall into a proper sleep you experience a dark, disconcerting replication of the previous week’s events, leaving you in a haze of what was, and is, reality. Think of an amalgamation of every existential crisis you’ve had, add a few images of Daily Mail readers joining hands around England’s border to the soundtrack of “Land of Hope and Glory”, with Rupert Murdoch’s face as the Teletubbies sun smiling in the sky, and you’re halfway there. However, take any slice of the history of democracy and the events of 2016 are by no means surprising.
True societal progress takes more time than a five-year parliamentary term, but the impatience of the downtrodden majority simply causes populist scapegoating regimes to become a universal panacea. From the Panama Papers, to the Chilcot report, to Theresa May’s silence over missile test failures, the stories that should cause nation-wide protest marches are so numerous, and so overruled by what Nigel Farage has said about immigrants causing congestion on the M4, that the public has remained divided. The number of people taking their frustrations out in Facebook arguments with one another continues to grow, whilst there is a seemingly declining number of those fighting the real source of economic hardship, a system designed to enrich those at the top and slowly destroy the souls of those not in the élite few. Few groups better embody this destroyed soul than the present university student population, who have been subject to an exponential increase in attacks on their present and future living standards since 2010.
The evidence of student exploitation is clear to see, even despite refused Freedom of Information requests. In 2011-12 one of the cheapest accommodation fees at the University of Bristol (University Hall) was £3,612, with tuition fees at £3,290. Now in 2016-17 UH students are paying £4,475 for the same rooms without a basin, and claustrophobic kitchens that you can’t even have predrinks in without struggling to breathe. Tuition fees are also again being raised, to £9,250 for Autumn 2017.
— John (@JohnHouse94) January 26, 2017
The CPI inflation rate from 2011-16 was a total of 9.6 per cent. Rent increased by 23.9 per cent across the same period. Tuition fees increased by 173.6 per cent. Many students, including myself, are already deep into their overdrafts despite having part-time jobs on the side, when they simply have the same lifestyle as those who went to university before them. Working-class, and middle-class, students across the country are being increasingly deterred from University because of rents and tuition fees set by the parents of students in the most expensive accommodations, who legitimately chant “your mum is my cleaner” on the bus before their shooting society social.
‘It became clear that the persistent exploitation of the student population had finally reached breaking point’
For all the reasons above, one month ago the decision was taken by the founding members of Bristol Cut The Rent to assess the reaction of those in a sample of two University of Bristol student halls towards the trend of rent increases above the rate of inflation. I was one student who became interested in this campaign, and what was found was a will to take political action that took even the most experienced political campaigners amongst us by surprise. It became clear that the persistent exploitation of the student population had finally reached breaking point, symbolising a microcosm of the UK’s constantly increasing societal issues.
— VICE UK (@VICEUK) September 19, 2016
After just two campaign meets, one before, and one after the Christmas break, 85 students signed a pledge to withhold their rent in order to emphasise the above issues, and incite change. A turn away from political apathy and scepticism towards the ageing population is beginning, and a democratic decision to postpone the January rent strike and begin a more organised, systematic campaign that encompasses the broader issues was reached.
‘Few would disagree that equality of opportunity should permit someone the right to have a University education not dependent on their parent’s income’
With Trade Union power being persistently eroded by Conservative wishes to abuse worker’s rights, student rent strikes are one of the few forms of withholding consent to society’s sadistic norms left. It is widely acknowledged that there is already a housing crisis in the UK, whilst few would disagree that equality of opportunity should permit someone the right to have a University education not dependent on their parent’s income. Therefore, displaying effective groundwork for a populist, progressive cause that Labour, Green, UKIP, and Liberal Democrat sympathisers alike can unite behind.
— UCL Cut The Rent (@rentcutUCL) May 28, 2016
So the next time you find yourself in a depressed existential crisis, wallowing at the state of the human condition, and having no motivation for political action, remember student rent strikes. If your own university has a rent strike group, join it. If it does not, make one, and use it as a populist base towards a society that in the long-term can provide true sustainability, equality of opportunity, and empathy towards one another.
Have you joined a student rent strike? What have been your experiences of it? Let us know.