As the London Living Wage increases, students suffer

Last week, the Living Wage Foundation announced that London’s Real Living Wage has increased by 20p per hour.

Up from £10.55 per hour, the new London Real Living Wage is £10.75, reflecting a rise in the cost of living in the capital. The Real Living Wage is higher in London than it is in the rest of the UK. It is different to the government’s National Living Wage, which is set at £8.21 per hour and only applies to employees over the age of 25.

Some students have told us that they are unlikely to benefit from the new Living Wage Foundation recommendations.

Lizzie, who studies in Central London, said: “I work for a hospitality agency, so the hourly wage changes depending on which company the shift is for. Most of them are under the Living Wage, so although it’s great the Real Living Wage has increased nationally, I doubt it will make much impact on how I get paid.”

Another student, a babysitter who lives in Islington and works in Kensington, also had doubts about whether the wage increase would benefit them.

“I babysit for people who pay according to the Real Living Wage,” they told London Student. Without this money, more than half an hour’s wage would go on peak-time travel, they said. But with ultra-flexible contracts, there is a risk that some student workers, like babysitters, might experience reduced hours: “If I was doing four to five hours for them every day, they are now asking for about three to four.”

Across London, many students struggle to fund their living arrangements without part-time or casual work, despite the UK government loaning £16bn to students in England each year.

In January 2019, a Student Hut survey found that, for more than half of students across the UK, maintenance loans don’t cover their rents. In London, this figure leaps to 62.5%.

And elsewhere in Europe, student poverty is in the spotlight. Last week in Lyon, France, a 22-year-old student set himself alight in a “desperate gesture” aimed at a “fascist and racist system that breaks people.” The suicide bid prompted widespread student protests in Lyon and Paris, and the hashtag #LaPrécaritéTue (“insecurity kills”) trended on Twitter throughout the week.

Posting on Facebook before dousing himself in petrol, the student said: “This year, I am doing the second year of my bachelor’s degree for the third time. I have no grant. Even when I had one, I received €450 a month. How can one live on that? And after our studies how long will we have to work to pay our social charges to have a decent pension?”

Students in Paris gather in a spontaneous #LaPrécaritéTue protest. Used with permission of Özge Kâtip.

Back in the UK, financial pressure is thought to be a barrier which prevents students from low income backgrounds achieving degrees. Whilst the number of applicants from low income families is increasing, “disadvantaged students” are far more likely to drop out due to cultural and economic factors, a UK Government analysis says.

In the meantime, only 27 employers across London’s Higher Education sector are accredited by the Living Wage Foundation. This list includes Goldsmiths, the University of London, LSE, SOAS, and London Metropolitan University. Some larger universities do not make the list, including UCL and King’s College London.

Living Wage Week ran from Monday 11th – Sunday 17th November, 2019.

Photo: Flickr/GDSTeam (CC BY 2.0) and Twitter/@OzgeKatip.

Will is London Student's Features Editor. He has recently completed a BA History at SOAS, and you might find him hiding in a library around Bloomsbury.

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