The group UCL Cut the Rent says that collectively they are withholding £250,000 until their demand is met. They say that rents have increased by 56% since 2009 and accuse the university of profiteering.
The group says that many students struggle to pay the rent, pushing them into debt and poverty which affects their studies. While students may be struggling financially, the plight of young people trying to find affordable housing in the capital is a wider issue and the data for earnings and private rents shows that there may be many who are worse off than students.
The rent for a single room at UCL’s Max Rayne House student accommodation in Camden is £135.59 per week. This is inclusive of bills such as heating, water rates and council tax. At Ramsay Hall in Bloomsbury the weekly, single room rent is £209.79, and the rent here includes bills plus breakfast and dinner each weekday.
These fees may be beyond the reach of students, but if they were renting in the private sector in Camden they would be facing far higher rents.
The latest data from the Valuation Office Agency, which advises the government on property and rental values, shows that the median rent for a room in a shared house in Camden is £683 per month, or £157 weekly.
Some cheaper options may be available. VOA data shows the rent in the cheapest 25% of property is £628 a month or £144 weekly. These rents do not include any of the bills a person has to meet in private accommodation.
There is no doubt that a student with a maximum maintenance loan of £10,702 will struggle to live in London. The loan is intended to cover living expenses for term time plus the Christmas and Easter holidays, as most students work over the summer. A maximum loan means an income of £267 for 40 weeks. The rent, inclusive of bills, at Max Rayne House would absorb 50% of this income.
Most students supplement their loan income by working part time. A survey by Endsleigh Insurance of 4,600 students puts monthly earnings on average at £316 or a little over £70 a week.
For those not in education, someone over 21 earning minimum wage who is working full time, 40 hours per week, earns a gross salary of £13,936. Across the year that equates to £268 per week. Renting a room in a shared house in one of the cheaper Camden properties would take up 53% of their gross earnings. After tax and and national insurance the net earnings would be closer to £230 per week, so the rent would be 62% of income. Then there are the bills on top.
For 18-20 year-olds, earnings are lower with the minimum wage at £5.30 an hour giving a weekly income of £212. Once again, this would be subject to tax meaning net earnings of around £192.
People on minimum wage may be eligible for some support. The government’s recommended benefits calculator suggests that a 21-year-old working full time for minimum wage, living in a shared house in Camden would receive housing benefit of around £30 a week.
Cheaper accommodation can be found in other parts of the city. The VOA data suggests that the cheapest boroughs for renting a room in a shared house are Greenwich, Bromley, Croydon and Lambeth. But a lack of affordable housing for young people has meant that many remain living with parents or return to do so after further education.
As previously reported by Urbs, the proportion of people aged 20-34 living with parents has climbed to 24%.
The rent strikers of UCL have highlighted the struggle for students faced with the cost of living in London. They are undoubtedly finding it tough but life for the poorly paid young people who are not in education may be even tougher.