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Courtesy Izzy Smitheman

University of Manchester students are refusing to pay their rent

Following the success of the student rent strikers in 2020, students are now demanding fair rent during the cost of living crisis

Back in 2020, first-year students at the University of Manchester spent their first few months of uni locked down in overpriced halls and attending virtual lectures on Zoom. Tension began to mount – a flurry of signs questioning “9k 4 what?” and demanding “let us out” began to appear on the windows of student accommodation around the city.

Then the university erected fencing around their accommodation as part of their COVID-19 response, and the student population erupted in protest: swathes of students tore down the fencing, another group occupied the university’s Owens Park Tower building, and hundreds went on rent strike. Eventually, the students won a 30 per cent reduction in their rent.

Fast forward to today, and it’s been nearly a year and a half since ‘freedom day’ and the end of COVID-19 restrictions back in July 2021. But though students are no longer literally being kept caged up like animals, their plight is far from over. Inflation currently stands at 10.7 per cent, causing rent and food prices to skyrocket – but maintenance loans have risen by just 2.3 per cent since September 2021 (and, in any case, barely covered living costs in the first place). In response, students in Manchester are calling for another rent strike.

Fraser McGuire, 19, is one of the rent strike organisers. “We are calling for a rent strike because rent in many University of Manchester [UoM] student halls has increased over the past two years, and combined with current inflation and the cost of living crisis, it is making universities unaffordable for many students,” he explains. “Increasingly students are struggling financially, spending over 70 per cent of their maintenance loan on often substandard accommodation – reports of rats and mice, mould, lack of hot water, and electrical faults are common across UoM student halls.”

Fraser is keen to replicate the success of the 2020 rent strikers. “The 2020 rent strikers won because they were able to mobilise lots of students to take part in direct action and withhold rent from the university, and I think we can do this again as students are angry and worried about their financial situation,” he explains. “Numbers are key to demonstrating how important the issue is to students, and to increasing pressure on the university.”

At present, nearly 100 people have signed up to the rent strike, with more signing up each day. “Student rent strikers won £12 million from the university in 2020/21, and if we get the expected numbers this January, I hope we can achieve the same success,” Fraser says.

Of course, the issue of overpriced, shoddy student accommodation isn’t an issue exclusive to Manchester – students all over the country are struggling to cope with soaring living costs right now. In light of this, does Fraser think other students could follow suit? It seems so. “Millions of people across the country are being hurt by the cost of living crisis and inflation, and students are often on the frontline of economic hardship,” he says. “It would be great to see other student organisations across the country taking direct action to fight for fair rent and better treatment from their universities. I hope we see this happen.”