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7th March 2023

The cost-of-living crisis is not just a buzzword – it’s time to fix it

With the Lead MCR elections in full swing, it’s high time we started treating the cost-of-living crisis as more than a vote-scoring exercise
The cost-of-living crisis is not just a buzzword – it’s time to fix it

Every student can agree that we are growing tired of this cost-of-living crisis. Our rents are rising, we can’t put the heating on, and we are settling for pesto pasta or instant noodles for dinner every night. It’s painfully exhausting to finally come into adulthood, just to not be able to afford to be an adult.

I can’t help but feel anger and frustration at this year’s LeadMCR candidates. All – including those running for the education-based roles – have mentioned the cost of living crisis in their manifestos. In theory, this should be good. However, I can’t help but think this is the candidates’ poor attempt in connecting to the student body.

Every student has been impacted by the cost-of-living crisis, and the Students’ Union has implemented some measures to help. There are now microwaves and kettles in The Hive, as well as a communal fridge where you can get free food from Corridor. However, the lines for the microwaves are not worth the wait. The fridge hardly gets stocked and when it is, there’s no guarantee that students who need it will get first pick. The £170 one-off payment was a fantastic sigh of relief but for most students, £170 barely covers one week of rent.

Quite frankly, we need our candidates for LeadMCR this year to not promise students more to solve the cost-of-living crisis, but to provide us with feasible solutions.

This year’s candidates have left me disappointed. Announcing at last Thursday’s hustings that the cost-of-living crisis is ‘bad’ and that it ‘needs to be fixed’ is just not going to cut it. All Union Affairs candidates, when asked about their approaches to aiding the crisis, could barely look at the audience as if they didn’t already have their answers prepared.

One candidate had proposed a bursary for the cost-of-living crisis. This proposal concerns me as they are running for a job where a bursary for the cost-of living-crisis already exists. The lack of research into what the Students’ Union actually does has me scared for our future officers, yet excited for the reality check the winners will face.

One critical error a Union Affairs Officer made was their choice of clothing at the hustings. Now, I am no Fashion journalist, but I firmly believe that what you wear to a job interview, which is streamed live to the entire student body, matters.

Why did a candidate think it was appropriate to wear an obnoxiously-branded Armani shirt whilst lecturing the audience about the cost-of-living crisis? Or another, who wore an Adidas cap? The lack of awareness astounded me – the shirt and cap’s retail value combined could pay for one month of my rent.

The cost-of-living crisis is not a far-away concept, it is a reality for a large portion of the students. It is not just a financial crisis, which I believe candidates this year have been too focused on. They are all too inspired by the £9 million that was achieved for students this year that they believe just throwing around money will get them votes.

Financial stress means mental stress. Students will be depressed and anxious about making ends meet. A promise of lowering rent in first-year halls is all well and good, however, how is that going to fix a second-year’s anxiety because they don’t know how they’ll get the money to pay their bills?

The University’s mental health support is nothing short of abysmal, with accessing basic counselling making students feel like animals in a free-for-all; to get an initial appointment you have to log in at 4pm and attempt to grab an appointment on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Our physical health is in decline due to this crisis too. Students are not leaving the house because we cannot afford the £2 single bus tickets, nor the £300 annual bus pass. Sports society memberships are extortionate so only the richest of students can afford to keep fit. While the Students’ Union does offer discounts to students from low-income backgrounds for societies, this still does not cut it.

A combination of the decline in the physical and mental health of students means a drop in academic engagement. There are very few assurances from the schools within the University to protect students suffering from the crisis and their grades. Mitigating circumstances is a broken system that even our lecturers hardly understand. To provide evidence of your suffering, while reasonable to avoid abusing the system, is simply degrading.

Why have only a handful of candidates in LeadMCR considered these impacts of the cost-of-living crisis? Why is the crisis a purely financial issue in their minds?

Moreover, the education-based officer candidates included the cost of living crisis in their manifestos. I’m confused as to what financial powers a Science and Engineering Officer holds that means candidates feel comfortable promising to provide students with cost-of-living support.

Can they actually provide students support in the faculties they will hopefully preside over? Or is the cost of living crisis being used as a buzzword to drum up support and make it seem like the candidates are in touch with student needs, despite it being a promise that is already dead in the water?

I’m bored of seeing the phrase “cost of living crisis” written all over blankets hung outside of the Students’ Union, on stickers on the bus stops, and on posters made with Canva’s free trial. The phrase has lost all meaning; it makes LeadMCR look like a popularity contest of who can throw the most hypothetical money at students.

So, are the LeadMCR candidates actually going to make a difference with the cost-of-living crisis? I sincerely hope so because this crisis is here to stay.

Violet Robins

Violet Robins

Deputy Opinion Editor – I write about the female experience

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