Last winter, a bedsheet, daubed in black paint, hung from the windows of Chesterman House: a mid-range hall of residence for Goldsmiths Students. It carried a single, unambiguous, message:
‘NO HEATING | CUT THE CRAP | CAP THE RENT.’
This was not the first, nor the last, angry gesture to reference the student-housing crisis across the UK. It was, however, the unofficial inauguration of Goldsmiths, Cut the Rent: a student-led campaign group that aims to challenge the expensive and inadequate accommodation on offer to first-year students.
Nationally, over the last five years, student rents have swelled by nearly 20% as quality of life on campus has slackened, with student dissatisfaction with their accommodation increasing by 50%. In London the struggle is ae. Rooms which cost £80-£90 per week a decade ago now cost upwards of £150 and are, in 41% of cases, now under private management: an increase of 120% from 2006.
Some media outlets have been quick to attribute the hike in rental costs to the demand for ‘en-suite education,’ claiming that the spike results from students’ desire for ‘boutique’ and ‘luxury’ living. However, as any student from UCL, Goldsmiths, Roehampton or the Courtauld Institute will tell you, freshers are more likely to encounter a collapsed ceiling rather than a flat-screen TV and an exploding toilet rather than a bespoke upcycled-ceramic bidet.
These four University of London colleges have led the way in forming Cut the Rent: a movement which has already claimed significant victories with rent strikes. This summer, UCL student strikers negotiated more than £1,000,000 of concessions from their housing association and a new-look NUS gave rent strikers their full endorsement. Gladly it seems that our national body now provides political support rather than just anodyne soundbites and Topshop loyalty cards.
At Goldsmiths, our success is yet to come. Our housing association still harass and intimidate striking students with threats of suspension and external debt collection agencies. They continue to hand out halls-of-residence management contracts to private providers, such as Campus Living Villages: a company that, Cut the Rent claim, have inflated property prices by 30%. And they retain an opaque and dismissive discourse with striking students in the face of ever-rising tensions. As a Cut the Rent representative writes: ‘This parasitic, elitist attitude to education is precisely what we are campaigning so hard to combat.’
For too long, too many students have put up with internet blackouts, flooding, infestations, and antique heating systems. For longer still, students have made do with an education system increasingly hollowed out, asset stripped, and stretched to capacity. But now, with enough support and momentum, students can and must stand up for their right to live comfortably and affordably, with dignity and respect, with pride in their community and faith in their management. As a new wave of Goldsmiths freshers arrive in South East London, SMITHS Politics would like to offer some advice: don’t get overwhelmed, although it’s sometimes easy; maintain your friendships, although it’s sometimes hard; but, above all, invest in black paint and bed sheets, you’ll probably need them.