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At the upcoming General Meeting on Thursday Week 8, LUSU will address the issue of the high cost of living at the University – a topic very near and dear to the hearts, and wallets, of students everywhere.
A number of factors contribute to the high cost of living at university. From grocery shopping to leisure spending, student expenditures can quickly add up. However, according to Joe O’Neill, VP (Education), some fees associated with student living do more damage than others.
O’Neill stated: “Hidden course costs, accommodation rising well above inflation, a student loan that hasn’t risen with inflation for years… There’s a massive list of things that are hitting students hard.”
The discussion at the General Meeting will focus on what LUSU is doing to achieve the existing motion put forward in Union Council in Summer Term last year by former LUSU President Joel Pullan. This motion focuses specifically on three areas of cost of living: accommodation, bus passes, and hidden course costs. However, the current Full Time Officer team have also introduced some new ideas and ways of actively tackling the problem on campus.
On the topic of rent, LUSU has pointed to the contract between Lancaster and UPP, a private accommodation provider on campus, as one of the main contributors to the high cost of campus accommodation. O’Neill referred to it as a “completely unbalanced deal” in which students end up getting the short end of the stick – as UPP continues to increase its fees, students are faced with increasingly daunting rent prices.
Today, the University itself only owns approximately one-third of campus accommodation. Due to the difficulty of combatting the University’s contractual obligation to UPP, Bowland President Lee Dudding has said that LUSU will be “lobbying the University” to introduce changes to the accommodation it still owns. Such changes will include incentive schemes that would benefit both students and the University. For example, LUSU members have proposed to the University a scheme by which student renters would be charged the actual price of the utilities they use. Currently, student rental fees simply include the average cost of utilities as a part of their overall cost.
LUSU is also currently working closely with JCRs and conducting research within the colleges in order to help its cost of living campaign. Other areas LUSU is focusing on are how LUSU services contribute to the cost of living. In his role as VP (Union Development) Damon Fairley will be focusing on how students can make a cheap healthy meal with things from LUSU Central as well as looking into issues of cost of living surrounding LUSU Living. Additionally, VP (Welfare and Community) Mia Scott will be working on ‘food is free’ and promoting Green Lancaster and the Eco Hub. Students will be encouraged to go and pick their own potatoes and get eggs from the chickens, for example.
When it comes to living costs, O’Neill stresses that the issue of the cost of living should not be limited to discussion within the student community. “This isn’t just an issue for students to be dealing with – this is a real community issue. We need to be engaging not with our own echo chamber but with our local community.” O’Neill points out that as students’ budgets become strained by things like the high cost of student accommodation, their spending in other areas will decrease, resulting in the creation of economic ripples in the community. “Local businesses rely on student spending power, and if that diminishes so do their livelihoods.”
O’Neill goes further to say that the rising cost of rent is not an isolated problem, but that it is instead tied in with the overall tendency towards students being “factored out”. O’Neill stated: “As I’ve said countless times, students don’t get because they don’t vote.” O’Neill stresses the importance of establishing the cost of living issue as something that affects everyone, not just students.
“We need a concerted effort to put this on the agenda, not just talk to ourselves. The General Meeting is a good place to…but the fight needs to be bigger than amongst our own members… We need to stop talking to ourselves and start talking to everyone this affects.”
The General Meeting will take place on Thursday Week 8. Students are welcome to attend, vote, and voice their opinions.