It is a truth universally acknowledged that the current student housing market is booming from the exploitation of students. By any standard of measurement extortionate rents on top of hidden costs such as letting agent’s fees and summer payments leave are ripping us off.  Cuts by the Westminster Tories along with the abolishment of grants have led to an even harder blow to women. For women the situation is made all the more dire by the added risk of exploitation.

Since being involved in Labour Students and meeting so many activists around the country I have heard horror story after horror story of women students experiences.

In towns and cities across the UK you’ll see ads offering free rent to women.

The catch? – Sex on demand.

We should be outraged, I promise you I am.

But still, women in education are being ignored.

For many of us women, sexual assault is a real issue that we experience too often. Consider the added fear that therefore arises when we have broken or sub-standard locks fitted in our student housing. Consider the added angst that comes with knowing that your landlord or letting agency will not take your worries seriously. Women in education are being left feeling unsafe and unprotected.

This is a travesty – and a hidden effect of students being treated as second class citizens. Our rights are ignored because landlords and letting agencies know that in the next year they will have a fresh crop of students to exploit.

These damaging effects are experienced not just by those of us in education, but by all women. In Tower Hamlets the Tories flagship ‘bedroom tax’ was found to have affected twice as many women than some men [54% of women compared to 23% of single men].

Furthermore, after separation or divorce women are often left with the majority of caring responsibilities. And if those they are caring for require extra space a home will be classed as under occupied – including if children are deemed young enough to be sharing, or old enough to move out then they will be stung with huge charges.

One of the biggest challenges ahead will be providing accommodation for homeless women. Refuges need to be better and the number of women stuck in a circle of “hidden homelessness” such as those sofa-surfing and sleeping on friends floors continues to be a huge concern that is not being talked about.

Councils such as Southwark have been previously admitted “gatekeeping”; i.e. actively targeting vulnerable homeless women, refusing them support and telling them to stay on people’s sofas and floors putting them at greater risk of sexual exploitation. In fact earlier this year Dispatches reported that 3 in 10 homeless women have also been a victim of sexual violence.

We should be aiming higher than just getting women off the streets. We should set our sights higher than just a roof over our heads. We should be aiming for all women to experience a decent standard of living.

Labour Student’s Priority Campaign has come at a time when housing services are in crisis, mental health services are in crisis, and yet again women are bearing the brunt of the Conservatives failures.

We must do more, and we must be the party to stand up for these women because decent housing is inherently a women’s issue.

Sheri Bhim
Labour Students Women’s Officer

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