‘I simply can’t afford to pay it’: The reality of the Manchester rent strike
Around 300 first year students are withholding hundreds of thousands of pounds in rent today
“The main reason why I’m joining the strike is because I simply can’t afford to pay it,” Enrique tells The Manchester Tab. He is one of approximately 300 first year students at the University of Manchester who are refusing to pay their rent today.
As an international student, Enrique pays the University of Manchester £21,000 for his international disaster management and humanitarian response degree – and it’s going up a further £2,000 for next year’s students. “Having to pay another £7,000 for the accommodation, with no loans” is not feasible, he explains.
“My only family in England is my mum and she’s on benefits so I’ve had to open a Gofundme to try to get money to pay the tuition and the rent. And I’m choosing to prioritise the tuition payments over the accommodation ones.”
Launched at the start of this month, Manchester Rent Strike is calling for a 30 per cent reduction in halls rent for the remainder of this year. The group also wants a 30 per cent refund for rent payments made by first year students in October.
Almost half of UK university students are living off £100 or less a month after they’ve paid their rent and bills, an NUS survey found in November. The study also found a quarter of students survive on £50 or less.
Enrique told The Manchester Tab: “To make teens and young adults pay this amount of money for this quality of life is unfair.”
Another first year student who wishes to remain anonymous told us: “The cost of my living situation does not match the value. I live in a catered accommodation but it’s not catered during the holidays, weekends or even lunches. I’ve had to skip meals because I simply can’t afford to eat and yet I’m still paying the full amount for weeks that we aren’t catered.”
They said: “My primary complaint is the quality. I pay over £6,000 a year for a single bedroom, with a tiny shared kitchen with minimal appliances and a bathroom, shared with eight other people.”
“My reason for striking comes out of a sense of justice.”
These thoughts were echoed by one of the rent strike organisers, Fraser McGuire. The first year history and politics student told The Manchester Tab, students are fed up with “being squeezed for profit”.
“It’s a combination of how substandard the accommodation is and how much we’re paying for it,” he said. “It makes me angry and I think it makes a lot of other students angry.”
The University of Manchester said it’s implemented a support package for students worth £9 million this year, including a £170 payment offered to all students in December.
However, for some students, they feel the £170 payment is papering over cracks. Rent striking students claim some halls rents have gone up by up over £400 this year.
“That £170 suddenly seems more like the uni is just doing it, not necessarily for publicity, but certainly to maintain an image,” Fraser believes.
He continued: “The university does not have the argument of ‘We’re being affected by the cost of living crisis’ because the university surplus has doubled in the last year. Now that is due to a number of different reasons, but the point is the uni has a lot more money now.”
The Manchester Tab revealed in December, the university surplus rose to £119.7 million last year, up from £61.4 million the previous year.
Despite this, Vice-chancellor, Nancy Rothwell told staff, £9,250 tuition fees aren’t enough and the university faces an “unsustainable financial future” because of the falling real term value of tuition fees.
UoM was clear to highlight that it does not make a profit on the excess income it receives – “all income is reinvested to fulfil the University’s strategic potential.”
A spokesperson for the University of Manchester 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.
“Any student who is struggling with their rent or any other financial hardship can apply to our expanded cost of living support fund for a grant of up to £2,000. This is part of a £9m package which includes a payment of £170 to all full-time students.”