Opinion: I’m joining the Sheffield student rent strike and here’s why

‘If I was paying around £2.50 a week, perhaps this would be fair’

For the second semester, I am joining hundreds of Sheffield students withholding their rent payments. Some find this foolish, but in the biggest rent strike of 40 years, I have hope that our demands will be heard and our accommodation fees will be reduced.

A lot of us left our university cities in the December travel gap, being promised a staggered return across January. Now we’re being told not to come back until mid- February.

That’s two and a half months of paying for a room we’re not living in.

Students are not made of money, most of us can’t depend on the support of our parents financially and ALL of us should have the ability to cancel our rent contracts and move home for our mental and financial benefit.

The Rent Strike is an opportunity for students to rightfully keep their money whilst also rebelling against the universities that continue to compete for our finances for their own gain.

It is a protest for our mental and physical health, to not be seen as mere numbers, to be treated with some form of respect, and not to be thrown onto the sidelines and ignored.

As a first-year student moving to a new city in the middle of a global pandemic, I was told this year would be “as normal as possible”. I can safely say those words are not true.

Whilst pubs, restaurants, and shops have had the opportunity to open, students (who will be the promising factor in restoring the country to normality once the pandemic is over) have barely seen inside their universities.

I’m a healthcare student who was promised a balanced mix of online and practical sessions, which I would’ve been satisfied with if it hadn’t all been lies.

It led me to ask: Why were we encouraged to go to university if the government knew the situation wouldn’t improve? Why were we encouraged to move to another city to sit in our accommodations and work remotely?

The answer is clear – universities profit off rent contracts and in a time of economic devastation, apparently robbing students is the best way to keep that extra funding coming in.

I would have no issue in paying my £9k fees and £5k accommodation if I was getting the experience I was advertised – but I’m not.

Housing is not “high quality, affordable, safe and secure,” as landlords say. Students point out that they ignore all maintenance requests unless they’re life-threatening, whilst a common response to complaints is “all we can do is apologise”.

If I was paying around £2.50 a week, perhaps this would be fair, but I’m paying thousands I can barely afford.

The Rent Strike is now not just a protest for rent reduction, but a movement encouraging students to take action on our treatment over the past few years. We demand fairness and we deserve to be listened to.

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