Cancelling Student Rent: Putting A Plaster Over the Real Problem?

The outbreak of coronavirus in the UK caused universities across the country to move to various forms of online learning and assessment. Many students returned home so they could socially distance while living with their families. This decision has left student flats much emptier at the end of the second academic term. The mass exodus caused student unions nationwide to begin a campaign for fairer fees and contract flexibility for students who are now paying thousands of pounds for vacant properties in their university towns and cities. Members of Parliament from all parties co-signed a letter to Michelle Donelan MP, the Minister of State for Universities, asking for reimbursement of “rent due from the date that they [students] vacated their accommodation, recognising that this may involve financial support from the Government.”

As student finance is currently structured, many students need to work alongside their full-time studies in order to support themselves, but regardless of this they aren’t eligible for state benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit if they’re out of work. Why do the government exclude students from social security?

Students are adults, so it’s time the government started treating them accordingly. We need maintenance loans that cover the cost of living for all students. Higher education is a choice that adults make, sometimes the first major choice shaping their future. We are electors, neighbours, taxpayers and productive members of society.

It is time the government recognised this.

Coronavirus has exposed many issues in need of attention in the months and years ahead. These cover healthcare and the value we place on our key workers in all sectors of the economy. We must also use this opportunity to re-assess how the country supports the next generation of medics, engineers, architects, journalists, politicians, business leaders, lawyers and teachers.

This article doesn’t have the answer, but instead voices the question.

As progressives, how can we empower students to stand on their own two feet?

Rebecca Procter is Chair of Nottingham Liberal Democrats and served as an election agent in the 2019 local elections. She studies Computer Security at Nottingham Trent University.