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Heleyni Pratley



Students currently face many financial pressures, from the lack of universal student allowances (and many having to borrow $150 a week to live during term) and fees set to rise by over 10% at the next fee setting round.
The university’s reasoning behind raising fees is that loading students full of debt will challenge the Government into taking action. This is opposed to their laziness in dealing with the issue, as students are easier to take money off than the government. They have also said that international students are not price sensitive within a couple thousand dollars. It’s easy to say this, of course, when you’re on $100k plus.
The thing is that fee increases and the ever-increasing student loan balance hurt students in both the present and the future.
Why is this a welfare issue? Because student poverty originates from these situations. Unlike when I first came to University, $150 is now a pretty common figure for rent, and finding accommodation is getting harder. I talk to a great many students who regularly get food bank parcels from the Students’ Association.
My job, and the jobs of many other people at the university, would be so much easier if decent, affordable housing was being provided. But it is not. The university is building expensive apartment blocks, while slowly demolishing their current stocks. The government has shown no desire to address this situation, period. VUWSA does what it can to deal with these issues, we provide free bread on Wednesday and Friday and free soup on Wednesday, as well as providing advocacy and support to students trying to survive. But that is only waiting at the bottom of the cliff – these services do little overall to change the situation in a positive way for students.
To protest and raise awareness concerning these issues, VUWSA and the Education Action Group (EAG) organised Box City in the Quad last Wednesday. More than 50 people built boxes in the quad and around 20 stayed over the night, to raise awareness on the issue. Hundreds popped in to check the boxes out. As we said in a number of interviews, Vic students might be poor, but they sure are creative! We had a wide range of box dwellers from hostel students to animal rights activists, bogans and a whole bunch of other students. Everyone who took part (and there are many, many students who did) will agree that this was a tremendous success, building momentum for the setting on 3 September, as well as future campaigns leading into next year’s general election, where students can hold the Labour government accountable for allowing this poverty building to continue.
The key message, however, is that the housing issue is one facing all New Zealanders, not just students. Typhoid and tuberculosis outbreaks in Porirua and the infamous Aro Valley mould are not a joke – these situations are the breeding grounds of disease and poverty. How do we change this?
Affordable quality accommodation is the only answer, and currently there is nothing coming out of parliament indicating that anyone is taking this seriously. The slow disappearance of state housing subsidies has only increased these issues, the running down and lack of promotion of the accommodation supplement has brought similar results.
We, as students, need to do something about this. There will be more cool campaigns (Box City, Part II was a regular request on the night) over the next several months to actually send a message to the University Council and the callous Labour government: that students deserve a bit more dignity and respect that has been dished out to them over the least few years.