Stephen Brimble argues that there is a cost of living crisis facing students at our university, with energy, travel and accommodation prices all on the rise.
Students have to cope with the pressure of a cost of living crisis across British universities. Maintenance loans and grants are not rising with the rate of inflation. The NUS have calculated that an average student will have to find £7,693 to cover rising expenditures such as rent, food, energy and transport. One of the main issues is the rising cost of accommodation due to the demands of greedy landlords and private companies. Students in Exeter are facing the second highest accommodation cost in Britain outside of London.
More supply is needed to give students the chance to negotiate a fair deal that meets their own individual circumstances. Students should screw the landlords down on price and they should prevent them taking advantage of naivety.
There is also the rising cost of energy that is hitting students particularly hard in the winter months. Some are forced to choose between heating or eating which inevitably contributes to fuel poverty and poor health. Average energy bills have risen by £300 under this government. For many students this is unsustainable and unaffordable.
The broken energy market needs to be regulated to protect students who are particularly vulnerable. Food prices are rising four times faster than wages so it is no surprise that many students decide not to use any source of heating when living in a house.
Travel is also an issue with the majority of students regularly using public transport. Rail fares on average have risen by 20% since 2010. This is well above inflation and this prevents many students using the trains. A cap on train fares should be introduced and all political parties should consider bringing the trains back into public ownership. It makes economic sense and it is supported overwhelmingly by the public. The government are refusing to scrutinise the train and energy companies.
In order to pay for these above inflation increases, a student may decide that securing a part time job will help ease the pressure on their finances. Students are lucky if they are able to secure part time work at university. The jobs available are often poorly paid, exploitative and exhausting. It is important to reward students fairly who need to work in order to pay for the cost of living.
The minimum wage needs to be raised significantly and businesses need incentives in order to pay a living wage of £7.65 an hour. A minimum wage of £5.03 for 18-20 year olds is an insult to hard working students. The pressure of work can cause disruption to a degree for a student. Education should be the main priority in order to equip young people with the skills that are necessary for the 21st century. This is being undermined by the cost of living crisis.
These increases are hitting students hard even before the cost of books, equipment, insurance, leisure and clothes are taken into account. The goal is to provide on optimistic message for students now and for the future. To effectively tackle of the cost of living crisis at university, the government should be scrutinising the activities of broken markets.
A living wage, entrepreneurial spirit and careful budget planning could ease financial pressure. The NUS are right to condemn the activities of immoral pay day loan companies like Wonga who are targeting hard pressed students. They should be strictly regulated to prevent interest rates of 4,214%. Students through the NUS should work collectively in order to campaign for increases in student loans and grants.
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