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Students across the UK to strike over high rents

Students and activists from 25 universities have called for a day of action in October, as well as mass rent strikes

Students from 25 UK universities have collectively called for action against soaring rents, with a coordinated rent strike planned for October.

Following the successes of the UCL Cut The Rent campaign, members of the NUS and activist groups the Radical Housing NetworkPlan C, Focus E15 and Sisters Uncut have come together to implement the forthcoming strikes. At the weekend, workshops were held in South London for The Rent Strike Weekender, where students and activists explained how to succeed against extortionate rent prices and housing management. A day of action is now planned for Friday 19 October.

Figures from the NUS have shown that over 50 per cent of students say they can’t afford their basic expenses of rent and other bills. The NUS has called for UK universities to offer bed spaces at the price of 50 per cent of the maximum amount a maintenance loan can give.

Esther, a spokesperson for Rent Strike, told Dazed about the process leading up to the rent strike. She said: “The success of UCL helped to demonstrate the effectiveness of the rent strike as a tactic to win concessions, and has also made the concept of rent striking seem more safe to many, as UCL management was not able to follow through on any threats made. A very active effort was made to reach out beyond London to different activist groups on campuses around the country because, while London does have the highest rents, it is in no way unique and similar issues are found at campuses across the country.”

She added that actions will be different on each campus, with both local and coordinated events taking place, while pointing out that it ironically falls on the same day as the MIPIM property conference in London.

“The initial reactions seem to have been incredibly positive. Last weekend, it felt like there was so much energy and excitement and some really important networks were starting to form. Immediately, since the weekend, we have seen an increase in ‘cut the rent’ groups similarly forming and have had indications that Sussex, Bristol, Leicester, Cardiff and Manchester Met have already started to organise.”

“I guess looking forward now about what we would like to see it will come down to individual campuses as what they see as the best way forward, as we have no intention of this becoming centralised,” she said. “Saying that, it would be amazing to see a national wave of rent strikes in which activists across the country could be mobilised to support each other.”

Back in June, over 1,000 students protested against UCL over rent. The strike, which lasted five months, saw officials of the London University concede over £1 million to student tenants. A £350,000 bursary fund for low-income students was promised for the next academic year, with £500,000 for the next year, 2017/2018. Rent cuts and further concessions brought the total saved to almost £2 million.

Reps for the collective at the time told Dazed the demonstration and subsequent win at UCL fed into “an important, but ultimately inadequate first step”.

In a new collective statement, the assembly said: “Rent from student accommodation is a powerful enabler of the continued marketisation of higher education, and profits from student rents are integral to the new financial strategy of universities. The tuition fee hike to £9000 was lobbied for by university Vice-Chancellors across the country, with full understanding of the changes it would bring to the funding structure of universities, and of the consequences it would have on the lives of students.”

“What the rent strike can do is create an alternate reality, an ideal community, within the increasingly corporatised, sanitised marketplace of higher education” – Angus O’Brien

The group called upon fellow students across the UK to “seriously consider rent strikes as a viable and productive course of action” against university managements that put students under serious financial stress.

They added: “The housing crisis is not specific to students – rent is everyone's problem, suffocating the lives of millions and disproportionately affecting women, the disabled and black and brown communities. We call on all students to offer immediate and consensual support to all those struggling to simply exist.”

"University managements' attempts to exploit us through high rents can be stopped. We are no longer interested in pursuing a defensive agenda. By rent striking we fight to win a meaningful life.”

Speaking to Dazed, UCL student Angus O’Brien of Cut The Rent said: “The reason we are seeing the vast, rapid proliferation of these campaigns at universities across the UK - not just london - is that these institutions are failing in so many basic arenas associated with housing. What the rent strike can do is create an alternate reality, an ideal community, within the increasingly corporatised, sanitised marketplace of higher education.”

“In campaigning against high rents, students within and without universities are brought together by a common rejection of their exploitation and a common belief in a better world - one they're willing to fight for.”

Find out more about the intended rent strike and day of action on Friday 19 October here.