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STUDENT leaders demanded a “real response” to poverty today after they set up a foodbank at their university for those who are too poor to afford to eat.
Leeds Beckett University’s students’ union launched the Give Or Take foodbank after it found itself inundated with appeals from distressed and impoverished students.
Manned entirely by volunteers, the foodbank also serves hot, healthy meals to anyone who is in need of them.
Leeds Beckett SU’s union affairs officer Charlie Hind told the Morning Star that the rise in rental costs and the gig economy have made the foodbank “sadly necessary.”
Mr Hind said that he has seen cases where students spend “more than 80 per cent” of their student loan on rent and said that situations such as this have led to a “huge rise in student poverty in recent years.”
A room in a five-bedroom flat in the university’s Broadcasting Tower accommodation costs almost £200 per week in rent, according to a recent report by the student union.
The price of rent means that even a student on the maximum student loan, which those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds receive, would have little left to live on after paying for housing.
Leeds student Jess Carrier told the Morning Star that throughout her three years living in “extortionately expensive” rented accommodation she has had to deal with “rat infestations that went untreated for weeks on end and people being made ill from botched house renovations that led to damp and mould throughout the property.
“Time and again when I used to request help from my landlord for problems mainly to do with mould, I was met with anger and blame. Yet they, as property owners, continue to be unaccountable while letting people live in uninhabitable properties.
“As students we pay above and beyond the average market price – rent prices are out of control, unregulated and allow students to be exploited time and time again.”
Ms Carrier’s view was echoed by a University of Manchester chemistry student, who did not want to be named, who told the Morning Star: “I pay £459 a month to live in a place where the walls are damp and my room is always cold.
“This still means that I am financially struggling towards the end of each loan instalment and sometimes rely on eating just boiled rice.
“If they did something like this at Manchester, I’d be one of the many who I am sure would welcome it.”
Foodbanks have been set up at other universities in the past few years including at Birmingham City in 2017.
Mr Hind said that while universities offer bursaries and hardship funds, many students have issues with late arrival of payments and called on all British universities to “extend their provisions” for students.
Calling on the government and local landlords to take action, he said: “What we’d like to see is a proper response from the government, bringing back maintenance grants which actually cover living costs, lifting all students up to a level where they can succeed.
“This foodbank also emphasises the need to introduce rent caps and for universities and lettings agents to consider the exploitative rent prices that they’re setting for students.”
The National Union of Students (NUS) has said that working-class and disadvantaged students face a “poverty premium” which often involves them having to spend more money to enter post-16 education.
Working-class students’ average necessary spending “routinely” exceeded what was available in grants and loans and student halls of residence “breach” any notion of affordability, the NUS found.
It comes as university staff are taking their latest bout of strike action over pensions, pay and poor conditions.
UCU members in at least 74 universities took strike action yesterday and today, which is expected to continue tomorrow.
A further series of strikes are planned for between March 2 and 5 if the union does not receive negotiation offers from senior education bosses.
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